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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.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Things change

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

How things change. Lola, Nell and I were just due to go from Bishop's Stortford station up to London and home when Pete's Dad, who is 80, fell seriously ill. The advantage of three months travelling is that we could immediately set off in the opposite direction for his home in Norfolk. Very sadly Dennis died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn the next day.

It's left everyone here at his house (where we are now staying) feel empty, sad and worn out - and perhaps even more aware that if you don't enjoy what you can, when you can the opportunity all too soon slips away.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Today we go home

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

Mixed emotions for us all as Lola, Nell and I head back to home in London - Pete opted to be in the advance party so we won't get to experience an unusally silent house with piles of post, unfortunate dead insects, empty fridge and three-month-old mould covered dishes in the sink.

This wouldn't have happened anyway as my friend Tom who was staying there all summer only moved all his stuff out yesterday. He says he likes the area so much (to his surprise?) that he's opted to rent another place nearby. And also various lovely neighbours, but especially Nicolette, have been tackling post piles and overflowing water butts.

For the past five days the slow three have had time in Hertfordshire to join in a range of community fundraisers, chat with Granny Fiona, enjoy Anthony's delicious feasts, play with one-year-old cousin Jago, raid the secondhand shops in Bishop's Stortford, swim, swing and make blackberry jam.

I tend to worry about things one thing at a time (to the detriment of the future maybe) but my biggest concern today, five hours before we leave for the train is how I'm going to drag our backpack and extras up to London while keeping the mice and kids safe, and the jam upright. Once this is done roll on the rest of the things that matter - from traffic calming and world peace to when my organic veg box gets delivered again.

There are lots of jobs for September - back to school obviously - but also an autumn pulling together this travel blog into something that makes people really, really want to visit Britain, or at the very least capture the pleasures of travelling around it. And that task is obviously a lot more hard graft than the exhilarating freedom I felt from being agenda-free and on the road...

I think the girls feel the same way as they've already been suggesting places they'd like to go or see next summer - Chester, Taransay, Ullapool, Bristol, Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest etc, etc. We've been very lucky, not a single dud stopover, even during the wettest British summer since Celia Finnes did her epic ride around England in the 1690s (a mini ice age). Then again we've got Gore-tex, trains, mobile phones and daily newspapers so the odds were high that we would have an easy time.

What we haven't been able to do is pick out a highlight. Excellent moments included walking much of Hadrian's Wall; seeing a Roman slipper being removed from the mud at Vindolanda; spotting lots of live wildlife (eg, hare, deer) and farm diversification wildlife (buffalo, ostriches); going down a coal mine, and completing the Power Tour. Big days out may be memorable, but simple pleasures like going for walks with a borrowed dog, or playing in a ditch - preferably with a rope swing over it - are what Lola and Nell enjoyed the best. Clearly there's work to be done in our tiny garden and some rescue pet centres to visit.

Here's a huge thank you to everyone who helped us, but most especially the people who lent us their houses (plus pets and vegetable gardens), showed us the places to go, or had us to stay.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Teddy bears' picnic


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

It’s all part of the excellent Little Hadham parish plan that we are turning up by the Millennium Wood in Bury Green for a teddy bears’ picnic – a free event for those with bears. The last time we were here it was for a polo match that only locals were invited to watch (held at Easter).

Lola and Nell are excited by the idea of a teddy party and ensure that my sister Eliza’s two bears get a makeover from Granny Fiona’s bit bag, and looking much smarter than they have for some time a sandy creature (Eliza/Hagrid) and a brown straw stuffed creature are soon in smart enough outfits to go down to the woods in.

Lola is in charge of Eliza’s old bear and is lucky enough to find it is the biggest – a bit impractical as we have to walk home with him later – but she also wins a beautifully designed teddy plate commemorating the occasion.

Nell is happy too because she’s picked for the magic show (note to Mums, dress your kids in red it’s a sure fire way to get them invited on to the stage, though white and every other colour works too…) and then wins a giant paper fiver that the cunning magician, Mr Ted, says her mum will swap for a real five pound note.

Even though I don't live here, I've lived in this area long enough while growing up to know enough people to really enjoy joining in. I absolutely love events like this - where there's a chance to get to know people, and zero pressure to contribute lots of money (unlike PTAs say). The organisers also have a brilliant recycling system - four dustbins labelled paper, cans, plastics and bottles - placed in the centre of action. Anyone could copy this idea, and I certainly will at the next event I find myself embroiled in.

Besides all the other pleasures - a family friendly event, old friends, prizes, veggie burgers on the BBQ and a fun trail to get you walking around the handsome wood (with wishing tree, lollipop tree etc) there was an ancient red London double decker bus (159) owned by a local man used to get visitors to and from the party via the village hall. Another brilliant idea, and free.

Family lunch

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

Everyone says there have only been four good summer days this year in the south east and we are enjoying two back-to-back when an impromptu gathering of family occurs for a big outside Sunday lunch by the pool. There’s mum, her significant other, Anthony who is today's star chef (for that many thanks!); my brother Drew his wife Kate and their one year old Jago; Kate’s sister Hattie and her daughter, Izzy; my two girls and me. It’s sunny, no one’s at work and there’s just enough food to be turned into a feast that covers the trestle tables and some good wine.

I take some snaps of the six adults and four children around the table and reckon it’s as close to a magazine’s dream Mediterranean dining scene as I’ve ever been in, almost Tuscan even (though the nearest I’ve ever got to this area of the map before is Islington’s Upper Street and the infamous Granita restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did that deal). The conversation is lively, there are no tantrums and we eat in the recommended slow food manner – lots of chat and fork tines tinging as we chase tasty morsels around the plates.

Granny's moving house

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

Since I was four years old my mum has lived in a lovely spot in Hertfordshire, not far from Bishop’s Stortford, but now it’s all change. She plans to move to what seems at first impressions to be a thriving villagey-town, Buntingford, once some work is done on her new home.

We’ve seen the new place twice now, once to admire and now to gawp at what the builders are doing to floors and ceilings. But we also got to clear out the pond weed; paddle with ducks by the river and arrange leaves in artful Andy Goldsworthy-type circles on the lawn. The cottage looks the sort of place that my mum could be very happy and Lola and Nell already have good memories as this is the place where they are able to purchase both mice and mouse supplies. I especially like the fact that there are no planes flying low and noisily over – something her “old” house is blighted by thanks to the seemingly endless expansion of Stansted Airport.

Strangely it is also the town where I first went to nursery school, so we are all coming back home too. I dimly remember Mum dragging my reins to stop me delaying her anymore as I climbed on and off the steps that jut out into the streets from the older houses. I also remember being shy at the nursery school when I looked at the other children (aged maybe three or four) and thought they looked so confident that I didn’t plan to even attempt to play with them.

There are times even now – more than 40 years later – when I feel exactly the same way about groups. You’d have thought I might have learnt to be a bit more skeptical about social glue by now.

Midnight walk

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

It’s 10pm and I’ve just got back from taking Lola and Nell on their first dusk-to-dark nature safari. We crossed the common at dusk dodging puddles left in the ruts of 4WD while admiring the mist that had hangs like a willow the wisp across this area making it feel very spooky. But this isn't a ghost walk, so to cheer the children up we walk on the road past Norton Cottage where the owls are shouting out for company and then out into enough open space to see the full moon rising, and then getting caught up in the hornbeam trees.

Hearing the owls reminds Lola of the time we were camping by Ullswater in the Lake District and she was woken on a wet night by a hungry owlet barracking its parents for food. Owls don’t fly when it’s wet – presumably because the voles don’t show – so this poor owlet would have had two choices: pester power or munching up its sibling (assuming there was another in the nest). Lola was too sleepy to realize this and just sat up in her sleeping bag to say loudly, but politely, “Please can you stop making that noise.” I think it worked, anyway we all fell back into a very fretful sleep and the next night the little owl wasn’t so persistent.

The big block is a mile best walked anti-clockwise. It can be busy but at this time of night on a bank holiday Saturday there are only two cars. As they pass we press ourselves into the verge, me hoping they’ll dip their lights when they see my pale trousers. But when the road is restored to its usual tranquility we get to see lots of bats using the silvery lanes as if they are they are selecting insects from the pick and mix counter.

We then turn right and out into the country with a stubble field to our left and hay-scented golf course on the right. Wherever there’s long grass on the roadside verge the crickets are up for it, shouting and partying. But all’s quiet in the stubble tonight: yesterday there was a couple working the north west corner by the passing point with a huge metal detector. I think all they got was mud on their boots.

As it grows dark the golden light shillueting SPELLING the far hedgerow closes down the colours into a grey blue and then inky night. On the golf course the grass is now soaked by dew and the moon gaining enough strength to give us moon shadows.

"It looks like the moon is a planet," said Lola teasing me, she knows I get very mixed up dealing with the solar system. Nell agrees and I resolve to learn them once and for all - I'm sure there's a nymonic SPELLING where John Likes Susan's Violet Eyes to help me finally get those planets under control.

Then just as the kids grow tired and we can spot more stars than planes (hard near Stansted Airport on a bank holiday weekend) we are over the five-bar gate and into the farmyard. Here the children turn on their torches so they can dodge the giant puddles and avoid the pond. Now we are on the final straight – strolling up the lane arm in arm listening to a neighbour’s teenagers celebrate GCSE results with a loud – and good – rendition of I would walk 500 miles by The Pretenders. It's a good choice!

Back home Granny Fiona is mystified by a walk in the dark: the terrace is her night time limit. Yet when pressed she says she enjoyed night fishing as a child on Strangford Lough, in Northern Ireland, and coming back by the moonlight with the oars dripping phosphorescence. Our midnight safari is not nearly so glamorous, but what a fine way to end a summer’s day.

Mouse control

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

The mice have arrived. After two months plus of listening to my daughters dreaming up a way to be mice owners (an obsession while staying in Aberdeen where they discussed names and along miles of Hadrian's Wall where they thought up taming tactics), and seeing them get better on the web as they research how to find, feed and breed from mice we now have two.

Nell picked out Caledonia - 12 weeks and a skewbald colour.
Lola’s choice is Chilly - about 8 weeks and a dove grey colour (possibly known in fancy mice circles as chinchilla).

“They’re a lot smaller than I thought they would be,” said Lola gazing in awe at the mice. She’s seen plenty of run over rats and other mammals on her travels this summer but until then hadn’t actually seen a live mouse. “I thought they’d be 10cm not including the tail,” she says but fortunately not in a disappointed way.

Both mice are does (the bucks apparently smell but I’d say that these two lovelies do a bit too) and seem to be settling in well.

They are surprisingly relaxing to watch: we all sat around them at lunch time looking at them sniffing, climbing, pooing, munching and nesting. But I think the girls have plans to tame them so that they can let them run all over their arms. As pets go mice seem reasonably sustainable, don’t need walking and are pretty quiet. It’s a shame they have to live in a horrible, small, plastic barred cage but in my mum’s house this is the only safe place from Clio the cat.

Farmers' market at Little Hadham

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

When I first went to the Little Hadham farmers’ market, held indoors in the village hall, on sale seemed to be just two items - potatoes and bottled Hadham Water (the latter has very recently folded after a contamination incident, a real shame, not least because the company employed 50 people locally and as the nearest bottled water to the site of the London Olympics was gearing up to supply competitors and visitors to the 2012 games).

At the final Saturday of August a few years later it’s a different story. The hall is packed with shoppers and stall holders - selling steamed puddings, meat pies, honey, decorative olive oils, local beers and sheepskin rugs as well as bread, cakes, fruit and veg. Everyone is local.

My companion, Lola, (who walked down the hill via bridleways with me) has saved all summer to acquire a fiver to purchase a mouse so was aghast by the prices. “20 pounds for olive oil! That’s four mice…” Long may she use such a fascinating yardstick for my shopping basket.

On the walk back home we shared brownies and scrumped Victoria plums which are at their best at the moment, and even more so when straight from the tree.

Freezeframe today

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

It’s the last day of our travels – that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped traveling. We still have to get from Wakefield to Hertfordshire (via three train journeys) and then stay at Granny Fiona’s for the bank holiday weekend. But it’s different now, the four of us are parting company at Peterborough – with Pete detouring to London for a West Ham game and then up to King’s Lynn, Norfolk to see his dad (granddad).

Even so I’d like to freezeframe today because it is the end of our adventure travels where we go somewhere we’ve not been to before. Today it was the 196 to a collapsing set of farm buildings at Wintersett by a charming pub. We walked on by and down the lane to the Winterton Countryside Discovery Centre. Here we learnt more about that first naturalist, Charles Winterton, by donning solar tope style helmets which were wired up to the ghost of Winterton who talked a lot about “balance” making him an ideal password. We also learnt that he’d died, aged 83, with the sound of the corncrake in the distance – a bird that no longer over-summers in Yorkshire because the habitats are gone.

The display was an ambitious idea that sadly didn’t work well and was further depleted by a lot of plastic walls and trees inside the centre. However other things in the centre were marvelous: the girls both made animal masks and created their own badge while I juggled around a nature jigsaw of footprint/home/poo and diet for a rabbit, otter, badger, fox and deer. It took me several guesses to get it right.

And then on to the park which we tramped across – Lola spotting a damsel fly, vole in the long grass, toad and froglet. “There is a lot of nature here,” was her verdict – though much less than when Winterton built his big wall around the estate and the mining and golf course hadn’t been built or his horrible son inherited and played big game hunter with his mates to deplete the wildlife further.

After about two miles we came to his old house (massive Georgian pile) surrounded by so much lake that it is on an island. It’s now a hotel and we were able to toast ourselves and the future of slow travel and free bus passes with wine, beer and lemonade at Charlie’s Bar to the bemusement of the honeymooners and trout fishing enthusiasts. Yet again it was a lovely evening with mackerel clouds skudding on a blue sky – the girls think this has been our luck, invariably we’ve had not just good weather but fabulous weather.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The last pit pony

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

His name is Robbie and he used to work at Pant y Gassey in South Wales. He’s now retired and living in luxury (well a very comfy stable deep with recycled paper bedding) with the added benefits of a well kept field, plus other horsy friends at the National Coal Museum www.ncm.org.uk. At one time (1913) there were 70,000 horses down the mines – often quite big cobs like Robbie – but tiddlers too.

It wasn’t until 1942 that any of the ponies down the mine were guaranteed some daylight – two weeks in August when the miners had their annual break. I still remember watching Blue Peter on TV and seeing pit ponies enjoying their summer grazing. Life for the horses must have been very hard as the men just wanted them to behave so they could get their job, shifting coal, done quicker. As a result there had to be a Parliamentary ruling that no pony could do more than three shifts in 72 hours. Bonnie, the centre’s horse keeper told us one very happy story about a former miner who told her how a pony saved his life, simply by uncharacteristically refusing to move. Moments later the roof caved in where they would have been.

Down the mine

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 (sorry pic is sideways)

Visiting the National Coal Mine http://www.ncm.org.uk/ was a real surprise. It’s the final stage of our power tour (we’ve been to a hydro pump station in Scotland; the Sellafield visitor centre next to the nuclear reprocessing site; ogled on and offshore wind turbines in Cumbria and elsewhere; seen a water wheel at work in Devon; taken the train past the carbon dinosaur cooling towers at Doncaster; stayed in a house with superinsulation thanks to its turf roof; enjoyed showers in Yorkshire from solar water heating and now we’ve been down a coal mine.

The underground tour at Caphouse Colliery, which takes more than an hour, is free. It was also the best of all the numerous guided tours we have been on throughout the past three months. Our star guide Andy, a former miner at the much deeper Thorne pit in Doncaster managed to explain the whole process of coal mining to his group of 20 adults and children (all over five, but none older than nine years). We were shown how to use a safety lamp to check for black damp (no oxygen) with a big flame low down; and fire damp (methane) by looking out for a blue glow above a tiny flame higher up.

If you only go to one place in England – which I hope is impossible– then go here, to the National Coal Museum midway between Wakefield and Huddersfield. The only downside was that I hated the food (the children ate chip butties, yuck, but as everything else is free it seems only fair to purchase snacks there). There’s a housewife from the 1920s giving a chat about life for mining families; displays explaining how to mine; a 300 million year old fossilized tree; and loads of banners and info about off-duty miners too with their sweet peas, cricket leagues, leeks and racing pigeons. Most noteable were the displays drawing together the events during the strikes of 1984 and 1985 to stop pit closures. I cried three times reading about mining: the bosses were so callous trying to slash wages whenever the price of coal fell even though one miner died every four hours. I must have worn a Coal not Dole badge, and given a few pounds at least to the NUM support funds for that strike, but it’s only now that I realize quite how those closures destroyed the communities Margaret Thatcher insisted shouldn’t, didn’t and couldn’t exist.

In just one year, 1923, 1,297 men were killed in mining accidents and more than 200,000 seriously injured. Yet for most of coal mining’s history workers got no sick pay or social security which meant when they fell ill, typically with the lung disease pneumoconiosis, they ended up getting into debt and even losing the house that their boss rented to them.

The tour was an eye-opener even without having to cope with any of the machinery noise or dust. Our group was only allowed down after handing in our contraband – anything with a battery which included my watch, camera, spare torch and a heap of other useless stuff I drag around. After crawling under the lowest chocks (hydraulic props which replaced the wooden props to stop the coal seam above collapsing on to you) and then whacking my helmet head along the slightly taller chock props, with only my helmet light to see by… and thankfully doing this I am in serious awe of anyone who willingly went down in a mine. Indeed getting me down the 430m drop in the cage (about the height of Blackpool Tower) makes me think I deserve a long and full life in the sunlight.

Burning coal is one of the big contributors to the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions: 34 million tonnes of coal are mined each year and there are still 11,000 people employed in the industry (for comparison:in the early 1900s there were more than a million working at 250 pits producing 250 million tonnes of coal annually).

There are still at least 33 open cast sites in Britain plus big mining industries in the USA, India and China. After this visit I don’t plan to burn coal in my fireplace again (a treat bit of winter heat) once my last two sacks in the cellar are used up. I’m not sure that was the aim of the centre but I just hadn’t realized how damaging coal is to people, never mind the environment.

Saving Brass in Leeds

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

Essential Leeds – a tourist guide available from www.visitleeds.co.uk – offers a guide to 24 hours in the city either splashing out or reigning in. Inspired I adapted the reigning in version – which involved a lot of eating plus strolls in Roundhay Park and late night live music at The Cockpit, Swinegate – for daytime with kids.

The bus station (a 30min ride in from Wakefield) is right by Kirkgate Market which has more than 800 stalls. I knew it was good but was stunned by the range of goodies sold. It feels very continental – a Sunday in Lille even – wandering around the market where we goggled at fruit, African home foods, a Polish deli, baji stall, cheese counters, olive and nut emporiums, embroidery kits and wrapping paper. Did we buy? Yes three buttons (at 25p each) and two 100g bags of sweeties for 80p each. It’s all on line now too, so you can visit virtually if you want to at http://www.leedsmarket.com/.

Next stop was Friends of the Earth’s Leeds office , also in Kirkgate, which provided a nice cup of tea and directions to Leeds Art Gallery. Here we slithered across the grandest tiled hall (lost for 50 years behind bookshelves and now a cafe); used the free internet access at next door’s library and enjoyed the collection of pictures. The girls particularly liked Anthony Gormley’s bigger than lifesize figure made out of bricks and then did their own abstract works at the art cart area upstairs. Next door is the Henry Moore Institute with an excellent craft shop – it's one of the venues where you can buy real art by real artists from as little as #45.

On our way back to the bus we were entertained by buskers near Albion Street and then spent a happy quarter of an hour washing and rewashing hands at Lush.

Total cost of day: return bus tickets #7, mementoes (those buttons!) 75p, grapes #1.40 = happiness for less than a tenner. We are also very lucky at the moment to be staying in a lovely house in Wakefield gratis (though we would like to do some babysitting!), many thanks to Mary & Adrian.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Art girls


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

Here are two fine pix of Nell and Lola at Wakefield Art Gallery doing their own work - inspired by the city's famous sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore etc (or maybe just bored?).

Bag ladies

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

At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park http://www.ysp.co.uk/ I bought sewing kits for the girls – a very clever concept which gave us about two hours of embroidered pleasures and, until they are lost, I hope months of swanning around with a very cute horse handbag for Lola and Nell.

The kit wasn’t cheap at #13.95 but I think it would make a brilliant present, made or unmade, for anyone creative but in a creation rut. See the selection at http://www.sparrowkids.co.uk/.

War of the Roses

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

There’s not much brickwork left at Sandal Castle http://www.wakefieldmuseums.org/ – a pleasing bus ride on the 110 from Wakefield – but that didn’t stop the kids marching around the ragwort fringed paths up to the motte and bailey singing the appropriate nursery rhyme:
“Oh the grand old Duke of York,
He had 10,000 men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up
They were up
And when they were down
They were down
And when they were only half way up
They were neither up nor down.”

We’d already met an eccentric local historian, John, who’d explained that the grand old Duke of York was Richard of York (Richard III) who’d gone out one dark Christmas evening (30th Dec 1460) looking for food. As Macdonalds (!) was closed he headed for Burger King (!!) but unfortunately ran into some nasty Lancastrians and lost his head. To add insult his head was then placed on a spike at Micklegate in York. Lola adored this story but Nell remains a little puzzled about why Burger King…

The following year Richard’s son got revenge at what is known still as England’s bloodiest homeground battle at Towston near Tadcaster and becomes Edward IV. The Lancastrians (red rose wearers) might well have won this if their arrows hadn’t fallen short in the windy conditions allowing the Yorkists to pick them up and fire them back. This was only really the start of the Wars of the Roses, an ignominious phase in British history that lasts from 1455-1485.

It gives me a certain pleasure to know that Pete (who went to Lancaster uni) and I (ex York) are in someways still gluing together that entente.

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.

Tree hug

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

It turns out that a stroll in the country is packed with scary moments – there’s the unprovoked wasp attack on Lola; avoiding giant hemlock along the River Cover which can blister your body and dealing with bored young bullocks that want to charge a short-legged yapping daschound (Truffle) mowing down the humans in their field in the process. Luckily my godson George, and the rest of our gang survived to tell our tale of derring-do (ie, how we threw ourselves over the barbed wire fence and did a major detour during the six and a half mile walk). In this photo we are measuring a very fat and fine beech tree on the path from Jerveaux Abbey to the Cover Bridge Inn. It came in at five hugs. Apparently the Woodland Trust want all ancient trees recorded, and you can find out how at http://www.woodland-trust.org.uk/.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hear say

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

It may not be true but one of the people I've met on the buses today, John, reckons that Sheffield's floods are over, even with two more days of heavy rain forecast. "Course we're twinned with Atlantis," was his deadpan end to our conversation - which made me laugh a lot.

If we can find some snorkels in the secondhand shops where we are staying then we will take the train for a good look around.

On the buses

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

It’s not your obvious tourist destination, and yet Wakefield is a brilliant place to stay. It’s in Yorkshire (good), boasts at having part-educated sculptural legends Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore (v gd) and seems full of friendly people (v v gd as I’m constantly getting lost as I make my way around the city and having to ask for directions which invariably include instructions for me to “turn right at the cathedral”). And the tourist info centre was voted the best in Yorkshire last year (2006).

But what I like best about Wakefield is the bus station. It’s clean, the departures board and timetables are easy to understand, there are lots of places to sit, and even on a Sunday morning two shops were open – Bakers Oven for snacks and WH Smith for the papers. Admittedly my last experience hanging around at a bus station was in the disaster of Workington. It may have had the first covered passenger waiting area in Britain but hasn’t yet realized that these days we also need somewhere to rest our weary legs while we wait for our bus to turn up.

Andy Goldsworthy rocks


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 (the Goldsworthy tribute band pic is on the right)

I’ve waited about six years to see it, but when Nell was told we were off to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park http://www.ysp.co.uk/ she had a meltdown. Half an hour later she’d forgotten and was skipping to the bus which runs hourly, even on a Sunday, from Wakefield to West Bretton and a short (unsigned) walk into the park.

It turns out that Nell is not the only child to disagree violently with her mum. On the 435 an only just still blonde woman, with a disconcerting bruise and cut on her right cheek, chats to us about life then and now in west Yorkshire and the famous sculpture park.

“My daughter loves it up there, but I just see three men with holes in them. It’s target practice not art,” she says happily as the bus passes The Station Pub and into the countryside again. “But when we were young we’d spend all day up there, looking for frogs. It never used to rain then. These days I think the sun has died that's why I always take this mac...” With her commentary, at turns painful and then delightful, the journey passes fast. Thanks also to her directions we enter the park at the controversial spot - Jonathan Borofsky’s tree-height Molecule Man 1+1+1. The girls siddle into a photographic spot by it, but as I snap they start squabbling, just like the giant men arguing above.

Tempers calm after a reviving hot chocolate so we walk to the Andy Goldsworthy’s rooms in the Underground Gallery. Here Nell undergoes a cathartic change. “This is cool,” she says breathing heavily as we walk into the second room, done out as an inverse bird’s nest made from sweet chestnut coppice carefully slotted together. In the third she’s the one to spot that the cracking clay is held together with hair – from users of Barnsley, Wakefield and Huddersfield hairdressers during Christmas 2006. And in the fourth Nell stares for nearly 10 still minutes at the curtain of horse chestnut stalks in front of us. Assuming these wonderful, and increasingly fragile, pieces don’t collapse you too can see the show until 6 January 2008 http://www.ysp.co.uk/ and also http://www.cc.gla.ac.uk/goldsworthy. The exhibition catalogue - celebrating his 30 year connection with YSP - provides an excellent future memory jog too if you are willing to part with #15 for it, Andy Goldsworthy at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (or just borrow it from me).

It’s still raining when we emerge from this bit of the show but Lola, Nell and I don't care; Goldsworthy makes us want to reconnect with every one of the elements. Which is why we also head to the Longside Gallery (a barn) where Goldsworthy has created his "shit" work: a river window from cow dung (genius!); a series of sheep feet canvases and a mud ball from the creation clean-up. He's also experimented, Damian Hirst style, with blood droplets on snow from a roadkill hare, and a deer.

Nell, ever bloodthirsty, adores these pieces too. I hope this doesn’t indicate a scary mother-daughter future ahead.

Travel tears

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 (pic is of my eyes, prickly & bloodshot!)

As we waited for a train to take us to Wakefield in west Yorkshire the soon not-to-be GNER service to Edinburgh pulled into the station. Over the crackly tannoy I heard “…calling at Durham, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh..” and realized that it wasn’t just all change at GNER (Stage Coach is planning to take over the franchise in December), we are also close to the end of the northern leg of our world tour around Britain.

Less dramatically this means going back home to London, via Hertfordshire. But it also means back to the routines, and bills and interminably doing things I’ve done before, until I can do them no longer. Which is why at Darlington Station I sat down and wept until our own train pulled in; then got into the wrong carriage and ended up in a first class seat risking a penalty fare.

“We’re not leaving Yorkshire,” said Pete passing me the map and a Wensleydale cheese sandwich in a bid to cheer me up. “We’re going to Wakefield.” And soon we weren’t leaving our last happy stay near Leyburn on the edge of the Dales, but speeding towards the next exciting stop-off.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

A better set of ruins

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

We've been conned: the pamphlets say that Jervaulx is the second best preserved abbey but really it is just a few stone walls compared to the amazing remains left at Easby Abbey which all Coast to Coast walkers pad past.

We took our borrowed dogs (Daisy and Truffle) to the lovely market town of Richmond for a walk by the river and were stunned to see that Easby Abbey - once inhabited by the White Monks - still has chunks of roof and double height walls. There wasn't time to play games this time but we had fun seeking out pigeon nests using Pete's torch (carried for emergencies and shadowy bits of historic buildings).

Birthday portrait

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

Here's Pete (with Daisy and Truffle) musing on the nature of limestone pavements (or his new great age) by the River Swale in Wensleydale.

One down, six to go

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

There's a horsy saying that you are only a rider if you've fallen off seven times. (The other saying is less positively that pride comes before a fall). And today Lola came one fall closer to the jockey target after Silver shied when a bird flew up as we cantered across a stubble field. Thankfully Lola was unhurt and got straight back on, carried on with the canter and then insisted on doing some jumps. So here's a lovely pic of her all on her own grinning as she rides.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Talking about hedgehogs

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 (pic is of Nell with a giant puffball not a hedgehog!)

First my mum reports finding a hedgehog in her new house in Hertfordshire which is turning its nose up at dogmeat treats. Then we read about the unfortunate specimen who was used for hurling at Ballymena in Northern Ireland and now we are inundated with hedgehog sightings. Most are run over, poor things, but at our last stop in Hexham we also saw one speeding across the cul de sac road late one evening being mobbed by a magpie.

And now in Yorkshire on one of our regular evening strolls with the dogs we found two on just a short stretch of lane. The first was roadkill, and dead enough to have no fleas on its spines. The next was a dazed female who we moved out of the way of traffic by lifting her on to a wall and into a garden raised about a metre above the road. About an hour later I suddenly realised the poor 'hog had probably just thrown herself out of the garden in a bid to find a new home but when we went back to the spot we'd left her curled in a tight, prickly ball she was gone - hopefully to a safe location away from traffic and slug pellets.

It's very exciting seeing a live hedgehog, though it did leave Pete musing about the hedgehog flavoured crisps of the 1980s born after a sketch on the satirical show Not the Nine O'Clock News. Nell seems keen to try them.

Games at the ruined abbey

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

Every time I visit the North Riding area Yorkshire I seem to visit Jervaulx Abbey, near Leyburn http://www.jervaulxabbey.com/. This was the spiritual birthplace of Wensleydale cheese – created by the Cistercian monks who came from France after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII – a topic Nell can’t get enough of – and somehow has stayed in private hands. This means you pay your #2 entry fee into an honesty box. It’s a huge place, by the River Ure, and totally romantic with its wild flowers growing along, beside and in the arches and tumbling down brickwork. There are apparently more than 200 species but the one dominating this week in August is thyme. There’s also a profusion of blackberries – some with ripe fruit though they were disgustingly sour – and also wild raspberry canes. I might not have noticed them if we hadn't played hide and seek which gave me plenty of opportunity while hiding to study them and while seeking to think about possible bolt holes.

Last time we were here (2005) Lola remembers playing What's the time Mr Wolf, but Nell was too young to remember so to her the whole Jervaulx Abbey experience feels first time. And it does for us too when we go to the nearby cafe and find totally stunning food at very reasonable prices - lettuce soup, savoury scones served with chunks of Wensleydale cheese, rarebits and homemade cakes. There's gluten free options too. It's amazing how good the food is in this area, I'm sure it's better than a few years ago, and I know that if we were in Scotland it's all too likely that we'd be eating chips rather than enjoying this foodie paradise.

Surfing in the Cornish rain

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 (pic is of my surfing informant, George, 13)

Our house-sitting friends ring from Cornwall to say they are having a wonderful time: the surf is up thanks to this week’s bad weather which pleases the better surfers. The beginners aren’t missing out either because surfing lessons are run even if it rains. That's why you buy wet suits...

Mum and Dad can chill all day catching up on the novels they wanted to read (they recommend Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) until the teenagers turn up wet and hungry as night falls needing to be stuffed with pasta and tomato sauce. It just shows what a good time you can have when the crowds thin out thanks to bad British summer weather.

Feels like Brussels

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

When we had the idea to travel around Britain pretending to be in different parts of the world I’d assumed Brussels would be easy to find. We could try mussels and mayonnaise, or Belgian beer eaten on the streets and then finished off with fondant filled chocolates. We tried this out at a restaurant in Upper Street, London but the idea felt so forced, and also very unBelgian that I almost gave up the concept. But as we explored the Forbidden Corner, an eccentric grotto in Yorkshire http://www.yorkshirenet.co.uk/theforbiddencorner designed by yet another Armstrong (see previous blog entries) – possibly in memory of his horse Hercules – we found a Manequin Pis that actually wees over lost passers-by (see what he did to Nell), just like he more politely does in Brussels on one of those back lanes you can't help but get lost in.

Admittedly in Yorkshire there is a warning, Cave Aquae, but you need to know your Latin to avoid wet trouser legs.

At the ice cream parlour

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

Have just tasted the best ice cream made by Brymor, http://www.brymordairy.co.uk/, a Yorkshire Dales farm/firm which they serve up at their farm and ice cream parlour a few miles out of Masham (and a good place to visit whether it is scorching or like today, pouring with rain). Before choosing flavours we went into the barn to pet their cute chestnut-coloured Gurnsey calves(see pic), avoiding their long scratchy tongues while reading info about the life of a milking cow. It doesn’t look that good a career (you grow up, give birth, lose your baby, get woken for milking at 5am for the next 360 days, then have a semi break for six weeks, give birth and the whole cycle starts again…) and yet cows always seem to be content lying around their fields chewing the cud (which of course releases tonnes of methane one of the gases responsible for changing our climate).

Brymor makes posh ice cream cakes and giant knickerbocker glories but the girls behind the counter seemed just as happy to serve up single flavour scoops in waffle cones (we picked chocoholic, vanilla with almond toffee, summer fruits, fudge). I didn’t like to point it out to my children as they enjoyed their ice cream, but in one of the freezers surrounding the parlour was an area devoted to veal products. But it’s a conversation that better be had soon.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Where to live?

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

"We've had a lot of homes," muses Lola as we arrive at this week's holiday home, a place we are house-sitting in Yorkshire (not the pic above!). I think that home ought to be where you are right now, but deep in my psyche is also the gently rolling arable hills of the Herts/Essex borders - the area Andrew Motion has recently written about in his exquisite childhood memoir, In the Blood. He makes it clear how to grow up normalish despite a backpack of strange upper middle class ideas about what is right, and what is expected. The twist for him is how his childhood was severed by his mum's horrible accident out hunting.

At the moment Lola and Nell don't seem to have a trace of snobbery in where or what home is. They don't even need it to be close to shops as they are still a long way from being the sort of females Sunderland manager Roy Keane recently berated for stopping players moving to the north east.
Long may this last as they won't be handed homes on a plate, or even be able to anticipate enough cash from me and Pete to be able to get a mortgage on a flat in their early 20s. If I look in an estate agents' window (eg, while waiting for Pete or because I'm nosing around somewhere) the girls are as likely to choose a suburban '70s build as a stockbroker's palace. Right now they love home, London specifically, best. But they also love to muse as we pad around places how they'd "love to live in a castle" (see pic), or, as we were searching for the mermaid pool on Burgh Island in Devon "on an island" http://www.burghisland.com/.
On the latter location I can reassure them: they are islanders even if it's 800 miles by 100 plus (depending on where you do the measuring) so you can't see the edges.

As for castles. Well we have seen lots of castles, some with the roof on and plenty with just blue sky and clouds for decoration. But despite the variety Lola reckons that the best one she's ever seen is the Tower of London -visited on a school trip. "It's got masses of links with the Tudors, and prisons, secrets, jewels and the scratches of prisoners on the walls. I found one of a wild boar," she enthuses when I press for details.

Lola jumps

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

About six weeks ago my friend Fleur, who has already taught her four sons to ride plus numerous of their friends, took Lola out for a ride on the trusty Silver. Lola started on the lead rein – by the end she was cantering off it! Fleur said she had a grin like the Cheshire Cat’s. Now we are back in Yorkshire house-sitting for Fleur’s family and I’m able to take Lola out for a hack.

Truly it is weird riding out knowing that I am the mother and my companion is my daughter (see pic). One of George Monbiot's recent polemics in his column - about the rise of people playing farmers and horsiculture - made me wince http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2133120,00.html.

There is no way you can make riding horses cheap. Getting into riding is a good way of developing a habit that is going to make you poor, or develop a serious need for cash. And the better you get the more gear you need; then land and apparently a 6-bed former farmhouse with stabling etc. But not all of us: indeed I would argue that the more people know about horses the more:
(a) independent they become as thinkers and
(b) knowledgeable about the countryside - they aren't just driving through it, they are riding in it, noticing the road kill; anticipating the speeding white van and the flapping planning proposal application; stressing about the weather and how all this dampness is going to lower the quality of hay and straw as well as increase its price.

Admittedly these are hardly world changing bits of knowledge but if I hadn't ridden as a child I would never have become a green... or made a very determined decision to live in a city with the lowest carbon footprint I can manage... or become a born again riding instructor.

But for this week Lola is really enjoying the rides on her borrowed pony, and when we come back to the home paddock she begs me to let her try to jump. Fleur’s tip is to just get the learner on a schoolmaster, like Silver, to follow the pony in front. This is definitely not the Pony Club method but it made sense – no problems steering or acceleration for the learner. So I took my mount, Charlie, over three different sets of poles, including some low barrels, with Lola following safely and happily (thank goodness). So now she has got a taste for speeding along and a sense of how jumping feels.

This is very much the way I learnt to ride – some core lessons and then lots of practice hacking around looking for verges to canter along and fallen logs to pop over. I’ve always been amazed that at eight years I was thought capable enough to go out for rides on my own on Telstar. Obviously it’s more fun and safer to hack with a friend – but on the right pony, along quiet lanes with enough space to get out of the way of speeding cars I reckon Lola, who is now nine, could manage too.

In Yorkshire people often seem to drive fast but they invariably slow down, sometimes even stop, when they see horses on the road. Thank you to all those considerate drivers.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

B is for bull

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

My dad loved this rhyme - it was in an old book helping children to learn the alphabet (I can also remember D for dahlia)

B is for bull
He's fierce and grim
It's best to keep away from him

It's not just foot and mouth that has us focusing, unfortunately again, on cattle. During our travels Nell has become obsessed by bulls - she sees them in more fields than they are in - and when we met her classmate Ethan down in Devon it turned out he has a similar interest. So this pic is of a handsome bull for all the five and six year olds out there...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Be plastic bag free

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

Lola, Nell and I are staying near the first town in Britain to go plastic free. Modbury is a really small Devon town, but from 1 May 2007 its independent retailers resolved to quit giving out plastic bags. Since then Hebden Bridge in Yorks has been inspired to follow suit, as have Saltash in Cornwall and Dunoon in Argyll.

Modbury's move came about after a local woman, Rebecca Hosking, showed them a film she had been involved in that helped people really understand how bad loose plastic bags can be on wildlife.

Find out more at http://www.plasticbagfree.com/ including how to get your community to quit the bad bag lady look.

I'm six and at work

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 Nell (who enjoyed her time at Morwellham Quay & Copper Mine even the 10 minutes working to find the green gold copper ore)

"Although the children had to do a 10 hour day I found it fun banging stones with my hammer. And I found copper, the grass overseer on the dressing floor area (where the kids worked) was very pleased with me."

Victorian school

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 Lola

If you went to school (parents had to pay) it was from three to eight years. I would have already left because I am nine. You wrote on slates with a slate pencil and then rubbed your work off with an old rag. You weren’t allowed your hair down if you were a teacher, and if you were a woman you also were not allowed to be married. The teacher at Morewellham Quay started at 16 years. We had a go copying proverbs in Victorian writing (copperplate). Nell and I weren’t very good at it, but mummy was.

Exploring the River Tamar

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

Canoe Tamar http://www.canoetamar.co.uk/ offers guided river trips from Cotehele to Morwellham Quay, with a quarter of an hour stop off under the Calstock Viaduct in Cornwall. As it wasn’t far from here and I’ve been itching to get back into a canoe we spent the morning exploring the river. The River Tamar is spectacular in this area curving along what appears to be a lush bowl shaped and peaceful wooded valley that 150 years ago was home to the biggest copper producing mine in Queen Victoria’s empire – and the seam had been worked for centuries earlier than that. We are more than 20 miles from the sea but the river is still navigable and has been used as a pack horse, and linked with canals, which helped gets goods in and out easily.

There were about 18 other canoes with us, but as I turned out to be much the slowest paddler (Lola and Nell joined in occasionally but they preferred to sit and eat sweets in our big Canadian-style canoe) we were invariably at the back of the party so had the river to ourselves apart from an extremely friendly guide – sometimes Sue and sometimes Jo. This meant we had the lightning struck chimney and a sizzled oak pointed out on the Devon side of the Tamar; learnt about the lost village of Newquay that archaeologists only recently rediscovered and are now digging around in and heard the haunting whistle of the miners’ train going into the shaft of the George & Charlotte copper mine. It wasn’t a ghost express because they now run hourly trips for tourists visiting the World Heritage Site.

The river is strongly tidal so our group used this to go up river. Even so whenever the wind blew a little gust my canoe headed for the 2m reeds nestling into them until I convinced it to nose its way out. It was very atmospheric paddling through this – I felt as if we were in the Burmese jungle, but the river made us all mix metaphors… Nell saw the old mine workings on the hillside and asked if they were made by giant rabbits, and Lola kept saying she’d had a nightmare about the various structures – the viaduct, the wonky chimney – that kept emerging as we rounded the river’s bends.

At 1pm the tide turned but as we were only one corner away from our canoe end point we managed to paddle home, not more than 10 minutes after the others. And instead of being wet we were sunned, relaxed and able to leave the packing up to Canoe Tamar (tel: 0845 430 1208) while we bought delicious Cornish pasties at the Victorian bakery and then ate them on the back of a cart pulled by a Clydesdale to give us another view of Morwellham Quay http://www.morwellham-quay.co.uk/.

Beach life, almost Ibiza

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

Our friends Debbie & Adam, plus their children, are complete beach babies so it was a pleasure to find ourselves on a beach in Devon with them claiming this was as good as Spain (albeit admitting that in Ibiza the sun is hotter, the sea bluer and the water seems safer and warmer). Adam took it one step further saying he thought “this was the best beach he’d been to in Devon”, which is quite an accolade for someone raised near Dartington.

Arymer Cove – the nearest walkable beach – is gorgeous: a large shingle spot reached by public footpaths along the cliffs or through a very lush green valley. It feels like a smugglers’ spot and they’re aren’t ever more than a couple of other people there – very different from the tented out bits of sand at Bigbury on Sea. Debbie & Adam were ending a camping trip with a beach picnic to enable both sets of kids to have a very long play before they took off for London. After a picnic of Devon apple juice, local cheeses etc the girls dared the waves, Ethan networked, Adam explored the iron pyrite rocks that were glistening in such a way that maybe they should be rechristened idiot’s silver (rather than fool’s gold) and Debbie and I lay chatting as we sunned. It was one of our most relaxed days on this trip.

Philosophy & odd socks

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 (pic is of Nell who has become something of a butterfly magnet with a Red Admiral and other admirers)

To help me share a bit of seaside info with the girls we went to a lecture run by the Aune Conservation Association http://www.aca.aveton-gifford.co.uk/ at Thurlestone – which would be nearby if there wasn’t the tidal river. You’d think The Ecology of Bigbury Bay might be a bit dry, but there were more than 60 people crowding the smart village hall, and Lola and Nell (the only kids) were riveted by the presentation. To be honest this amazed me – I keep thinking if they enjoyed it so much why were there no other children at the talk?

The talk was given by the retired head of Modbury School, Gordon Waterhouse using his friend Brian Ashby’s slides. Using a great deal of humour Gordon talked us down river from the salt marsh and the tidal road to the cowrie shells (delightfully named trivia) and on to the cormorants’ razor sharp nesting place on the cliffs of Burgh Island. We also learnt about Albert – a man who must have recently died who made his home in a combination of three wrecked boats, kept his spare change in a sock (now that is a good idea) and clearly led an alternative lifestyle that made a lot of the locals very suspicious of him. Gordon called him a recycler and a gentleman – praise indeed.

I especially liked the calm philosophy he introduced inbetween his bigging up of a local conservationist celeb, George Montagu, read more about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Montagu (he found and named the daytime flying Tiger Moth and also the Trivia cowrie shell). By the time we left (at half time) it would be hard to have missed that there are no ends that can’t be called beginnings; and that none of us are indispensible – even if we think we are.

Put another way every odd sock has a use. Lola and Nell’s suggestions include using as a purse (of course), make puppets, make oat balls for the bath, add to a scarecrow, arrange in colour and size and pin to the wall, etc, etc

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Skim boards

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

The girls love jumping the waves at Bigbury-on-Sea, but it’s clear the other children at this blue flag beach are enjoying using body boards through the quite gentle surf. Although I know it can’t stay this hot I decide to buy them something similar – a painted wooden (ply) version that turns out to be a skim board. Not only can you surf with it, you can also slither it along the shallows, jump on and look as if you are gliding into the sunset. It helps if you are a teenage boy.

Successful skim boarding may be cool, but it’s also very easy to fall off and bust bits of you - and the poor person you’ve crashed into. As a result I will be leaving the ones I’ve bought as a gift for my lovely friend Kerry who has kindly lent us her house in this area. Cross fingers her kids stay safe on it.

Gloom in the car park

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

Borrowing and renting cars seems to be making my already poor parking skills far worse. Every car is a different size, obviously, and every county seems to have a different approach to parking though from the Borders south paying for use is pretty much obligatory. Switching bikes is just as complicated on the gear front, but parking is a doddle.

And so it is at a South Hams car park after a day on a Devon beach that I am ashamed to find a #70 fine on my rental car. I have failed to park its wheels within the white lines of one box. Bustards. It’s a punishment that reminds me we are now in the over-crowded south east (well south west) where every bit of space has a bigger value than you’d think.

Lola’s always asking what it’s like to be a grown-up and now I can tell her. It’s about knowing sets of invisible rules that must be obeyed (or you are fined) whilst carrying out tonnes of shockingly dull and monotonous tasks (eg, cleaning). As this makes being an adult so unattractive I tend to focus on the good bits like making your own decisions about when to go to bed and what food to eat. But Lola knows that’s not much more exciting than a bit after her, and pasta.

Glorious food right here

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

Everywhere we’ve travelled we’ve tried to use independently owned shops and locally sourced food – as a result we’ve had some very delicious drinks and meals. But here in Devon local fine food moves into a new category. Everyone’s at it! Within walking distance of the village we are staying in is a 13th century pub, whimsically named The Journey’s End. Its menu is locally sourced, changes daily, has a veggie option and all adult portions can be served up for kids. The landlords, Jules and Paul, are super friendly – even to people with children – which turns out to be normal behaviour from all the shopkeepers I’ve bought stuff off so far. (This is something La Fromagerie owners in Highbury could learn a few things from, it makes spending so much more pleasurable!).

Then there’s Ringmore Stores/St Ann’s Chapel Post Office that is open 7 days a week, offers an internet service (something not a single shop in Hexham could manage!), takes cash and cards and stocks zillions of local produce including cheese, English wine, Westcountry meringues, South Devon chillies etc. Not surprisingly it won the Best Village Shop & Post Office in the South Hams 2006 – and then held a celebratory BBQ with 250 of its customers. Despite needing to queue when the daytrippers come past to pick up supplies for the beach the owners are calm, friendly and chatty. They make feel you are on holiday.

Up the road is a pick your own at Kitley, off the A379, tied to one of Riverford Farm’s farm shops. This is a brilliant find at 5.30pm on a Friday evening when you think that all there is to eat for the weekend are Pringles & a variety pack of cereal bought from a petrol station. The farm shop sells every imaginable luxury but also bread, milk and organic veg.

If you can tear yourself away from the stove then there’s also the Venus CafĂ© (see pic above of Nell choosing her favourite locally made ice cream & cone) at Bigbury-on-Sea which looks like a cheerful chips and tea kind of a place but offers a menu with gluten free choices, fair trade drinks, local ice cream, home made chips etc… And the takeaway mugs explain what’s going on:
“Drink in the view. It’s stunning isn’t it? We aim to keep it that way.
We use natural toxic free detergents and cleaning materials preventing damage to the beach, sea or any wildlife.”

If only every county was as eco-conscious as South Hams.

Turning Japanese

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

It takes nine hours to get from Hexham via Carlisle to Plymouth, a long journey to make on my own with the two children but it turned out to be a doddle. Lola had her nose in a triology while I read the first Harry Potter book to Nell, a bit slowly. In the remaining table seat a young woman was reading Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince. When she told us she was trying to catch up with her students Lola’s curious gene took over. It turned out Ros was a teacher in Chester going for a big weekend in Bristol and Bath. Maybe the almost high speed nature of the Virgin line reminded her of Japan’s famous bullet trains as she was soon telling us about her recent year spent teaching English in Japan… And so at last we got a taste of Japan. “My friends used to ask me what festivals the British had, and besides Christmas we don’t really have enough.” Since her return to the UK she’s on the look out for festivals… over the next month there are fetes every weekend; and there’s a few places with outlandish Gunpowder Plot celebrations (eg, Lewes) on 5 November. Her tip for the best Japanese food is to turn east at Top Shop in London and search for Sakura, there’s also a store nearby selling the classic Japanese nicknacks such as “welcome cats”. We never really understood what a welcome cat was (like a nodding dog perhaps) so that’s a short trip to make to Kyoto, via Oxford Street, come the autumn.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Above the birds


Extraordinary moment just below Turret 43a on Hadrians Wall on the last day of July - and the sunniest day we've had over the past eight weeks. Lola, Nell and I had stopped for jaffa cakes at the top of Cockmount Hill as it gave us a bird's eye view of the valley to the south and let the sun sink into our limbs. We were nearly at the end of our longest walk on the wall - 6.6miles over endless ups and downs and a lot of chat about the antics of Harry Potter, and what the Romans have ever done for us...

As we relaxed Nell spotted a bird hovering below us, then diving down into the grass, then soaring back up again and repeating this. It's back was a golden brown and the markings on its tail were so clear it was easy to later look it up and find out that it was a female kite. She hovered close enough to us for us to see how her wings moved and because of the sheer drop off this hill we were always above her. It was spellbinding to watch not least because she seemed quite uninterested in our party, and for some time also ignored the train of nine young overloaded teenage backpackers snailing there way up the hill.

Our kite only flew off when one poor girl puffed at us "I'm going to die". She was revived enough by her friends launching into an irritating chorus of "If you're happy and you know it..." to set her draw into a look that suggested she might kill them first. But in our eerie we were uterly happy and all of us clapped our hands encouraging the teenagers to keep going with the tempting fact that there was some downhill soon, and only three miles away was a loo.