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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.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Coping with Copenhagen failure

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11 and Nell, 8, spent the summer of 2007 travelling around Britain with an eye on their carbon footprint. Now they're home and trying to find ways to get out and about in a carbon lite way. This entry is from Nicola. (pic of girls looking at the UK's only polar bear who lives in Scotland)

My watch has stopped at one minute to midnight on the day I finally realise that the Copenhagen climate talks - in Denmark - have failed.

It takes the Guardian's hope-o-metre of one polar bear (the highest is five) for me to get this, read all about it in 19 December 2009 pieces here. With the world now set to warm up by at least 2 degrees low lying Pacific islands (as in the picture) and the super-flat Maldives, and anywhere with coastal homes/cities is going to be in serious trouble. As a result more than a third of species look set to become extinct.

The next day I wake (after a crap night of borderline sleep) feeling furiously low. The sky may be a beautiful, bright winter blue but it's obvious to me that it's just a picturesque tease. Everything I've loved is at an end: Borders is being sold off, ergo book writing is doomed (or at least the weekend free reading in a warm room with real coffee percolating out of the cafe). My list of complaints include cash crisis (mine, world), lack of paid work (mine, world), worries about food/inadequate stockpiling (me, world)... Pantomime doom and gloom really.

But after a cup of hot black coffee, I pick up a useful sort of a book called 52 ways to change it by life coach Annabel Sutton (website here), flip the pages to allow the text to choose what I read today and the perfect pick me up appears. Here's the quote: "There's no such thing as a wrong decision", which is backed up with calm balm... quoted here from p 17.

"No matter what happens, whichever decision you make it won't be wrong - it will simply result in a different outcome. Either way, there will be new things to learn, new people to meet, new opportunities will open up, and so on."

I'm going to hang on to that, because it makes the idea of the world learning to be more energy efficient, matching climate refugees with their hosts and taking advantage of any new opps a great deal more attractive.

And as Pete points out if the climate deniers turn out to be right (!) all we'll have to put up with is insufferable crowing. We could all live with that.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Gin and wink

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11 and Nell, 8 spent the summer of 2007 holidaying in the UK to perfect low carbon travel. Now they are back home still keen to share their carbon lite travel tips.
It's all about gin today.

Just presented Nell's teachers with an end of year gift - the sloe gin that she and I made together. We will miss ritually shaking it in the cellar each week to make it change from boringly clear alcohol to a shocking red-pink (claret?) sloe-flavoured gin.

I always think of gin as quintessentially English, but years ago before we counted carbon footprints Pete was invited to the juniper berry harvest for Gordon's Gin in Italy. Here he watched old ladies on the Umbrian hills of Italy picking the berries, drank samples heartily and then wrote about it. And if juniper berries give Italy the ownership of gin, linguistically it's closer to home. The word gin is a corruption of the French word for juniper berry (a very Wikipedia fact).

Plus very excited to see JJ and his business partner James use gin (although Lady Arran may have gone for vodka) to win Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant on 17 Dec 2009. Success came after yet another lucky contest where JJ's cocktail-thinking got him out of another culinary scrape by serving up a blackberry flavoured gin mix instead of chocolate souffle in the final task. Masterful! Find out more here.

I've become an adoring JJ fan - recently Pete had a party at JJ's atmospheric London Cocktail Club, 6-7 Great Newport Street below the Arts Theatre. And as result of those cocktail-fuelled conversations generous JJ (then hanging in at the 3rd of the TV shows) came to the London College of Communication (LCC) to let my class of Year 1 media students interview him. His reward? Another jam jar portion of that famous sloe gin... The picture above shows some of the LCC students with him. And no one winked, remembering perhaps JJ's discomfort when Raymond Blanc caught him doing this.
So the plan for this Friday night is to celebrate the girls' end of term and JJ's spectacular win with my own mix of gin and silly (aka tonic and ice), and all because the sloe gin is taboo until after Christmas. FYI this is an ancient Baird tradition which if broken would set my dad's ghost on me shouting "gutless worm" and other well remembered phrases.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Waving not drowning

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, went travelling around Britain in 2008. Now they're back but still trying to make trips with the lightest possible carbon footprint. Here's how ...

Can you see the blue noses and clotheses (from right to left: Lola and Nell. Ellen, 14, and Andy seen here back home after a day of citizen protest)? There's 20,000 others on the Wave - a march across central London organised by Stop Climate Chaos to highlight the need for politicians to do something about climate change.

Actually the police say 20,000 and the organisers (including Belfast and Glasgow) tell us it is 50,000. Whichever number is correct it is a lot.

Lola, Nell and I have done something similar together enough times to feel that marching for climate justice is one of the tasks in the run up to Christmas. It's our form of spiritual preparation, but this time there are many more people involved. We meet a man who'd come up from Gloucester on his own, see buses from Wales and Dorset, get surrounded by church groups and admire the crowds on TV that set off from Hyde Park after a rousing set of talks. We even have friends staying who have travelled down from Hexham, Northumberland (see pic). Sorting out climate change is one thing, but it is also fantastic to be walking along a traffic free route from (roughly) Green Park tube to Lambeth Bridge.

Next week we will find out if the big turn out does impress politicians at the Cophenhagen meeting who have to seal somekind of carbon dioxide emissions deal.

Pre-march preparation takes Lola, Nell and I to the Royal Academy's pop-up expo on art and climate. It's called Earth: a changing world and was stunning. there's a man futilely making an island in the sea; there's a barbcued polar bear bone turned into a diamond, there's epitaphs and landscape pix and wit. There's Tracey Emin, obviously. And a video of black rain. And performance art with a rapping conculsion. Find it around the back of the Royal Academy (at the old Museum of Mankind, 6 Burlington Gardens). If you're an RA member it's free - and there are no queues. Even if Anish Kapoor, the main attraction is worth seeing, I really don't think I'd be willing to queue when I could enjoy Earth with no crowds at all.

The art show helps us focus. It's clear what's going on worldwide isn't good, and it's clear that we don't know the half of it. Why do factory workers dressed in pink pack pinky chicken? Why do rich Israeli men try to offroad dunes in vast 4x4s? Why are the rubbish piles in China covered in nets and shaped to look like romantic Chinese landscape - or have shrines on them? We also owe a great debt to the educational programe Cape Farewell that takes artists to the Arctic for a look-see (aka cultural response) that seems to inspire astonishing creativity about climate change and the state of our world now.

After the art we join the crowds with our friends Andrew and his daughter Ella, 9. The kids daub blue face paint on nose and cheeks and then get a chant going which peps up our bit of the march. They only stop when we reach Lambeth Bridge. And then at 3pm with Parliament encircled via two bridges (and the climate camp activists apparently camping out or avoiding arrest under Oliver Cromwell's toes) everyone waves their blue hands. And waves, and waves again because we're rioting for austerity measures that will give everyone in the world a better chance.

Meanwhile the news focuses on the 20 million Bangladeshi people who may have to leave their country within 50 years because of sea level rise. David Cameron lashes out at the climate sceptics (particularly David Davis in his own party) and Barak Obama finally agrees to pop into Copenhagen on the first day. See here.

This Saturday we've done something big, and the signs that it may have helped are good. But perhaps that's because we so want them to be. As for Pete, he insisted on going to the West Ham v Man U game (result a shameful home loss of 0:4) but sort of redeemed himself for a no march show by getting climate change mentioned in his fan's view in the Observer, see here.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

It's time to party

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer travelling around Britain. Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

In the run up to the Copenhagen meeting next week there seems to be a sense of great sadness. See here at the Guardian. We did all this to the world. We made October the hottest, November the wettest, Sydney the dustiest, etc. And at night I am conscious that my bedtime reading, Notes from Walnut Farm - a collection of Roger Deakin's writing during the six years before he died - is imbued with sadness. Even the frothy spring cow parsley is berated for replacing rarer, and arguably more lovely, violets. See the cover here.

Which is why it is lovely to sometime crash a party and cheer the hell up. December is the best time to do this, but last month the highlight near home was when Algeria qualified for the World Cup. The guys in Little Algeria (an area around Finsbury Park) were able to celebrate qualifying for the first time in 21 years. They bounced up and down, they drove around the block hooting horns. They marched back and forth the zebra crossing. And they waved flags, smiled and gathered together (yes,blocking the buses) conscious of just how far their team had come in order to make the slot for South Africa in July 2010.

It was like a flashmob, but less contrived. You could smell the happiness.

Having fun doesn't make me forget climate change, but it does remind me how important it is to avoid the tendency for humans to look on the dark side. Yes the world is in a bad, bad place. But without hope it really is hard to summon creativity. And creativity is what we all need, and especially the journalists writing up the story and those world leaders whose job it is to get a deal.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Stories round the woodburner

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell spent the summer of 2007 travelling around Britain without racking up their carbon budget. We're home now but we still love travelling. Here's how we try and do it keeping to a low carbon footprint and getting a taste of everywhere in the world. This post is by Nicola.

One of the things I love about visiting people in the countryside is their tendency in the winter to have wood burning stoves. If the wood is sourced from the right place - and I'm working on this - then you can have carbon neutral space heating.

After long talks, debates and saving up we now have an Aga Little Wenlock woodburner fitted (suitable for smokeless zones) where our Victorian fireplace used to be. It's pretty warm today - 16C - but last weekend, when it was a bit colder, we set it alight both evenings with amazingly good results. In fact the woodburner's efficiency made our sitting room warm enough for me to stay up late (chatting), rather than retire with a hot water bottle to bed at 9pm. Its cosy glow reminds me of Hannah's in Wales and Exeter, and my childhood in Hertfordshire. Pete says - rather happily - that the atmosphere in our living room hints at warm ups by the pub after breath-freezing days in the Lakes and Yorkshire.

Of course you need kindling to light it, and so there's a new task for the children (see pic). Here's Nell and her three year old cousin Jago helping me collect up a big bag of twigs off an ash tree, which all fell down after a night of gales.
Searching for kindling, copying great ideas (I think the Swedes invented the woodburner, just checking) and being able to story around the fire make autumn and winter such a pleasure. next project may be to plant some more trees...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dog daze

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell spent three months during summer 2007 travelling around Britain. Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

I'm guilty of introducing an 4x4 jeep sized-footprint into the house. At least that's what a recent Guardian piece claims here thanks to the arrival of our pup. Much of Leo Hickman's piece is taken from a hackle-raising book, Time To Eat the Dog and is probably spot on. I've already noticed that even at eight weeks Vulcan's lack of house training meant we had to wash our hands more; and we're flushing his poos away so our water use is well up. He eats a chicken-based biscuit (so we're fuelling Amazonian rainforest decline as soya feed gets used to fatten the poultry base). We also often leave a light on for him - and at night to keep him warm we provide a hotwater bottle (better than gas central heating, but still a need forextra electricity as we heat up a saucepan on the hob).

In an ideal world we'd have got an unwanted/rescue dog who would still have a resource-heavy footprint (mostly shit) but convincing the rescue centres to let me take one home was heavy weather. One in Wales didn't seem to think I could collect a dog (Jester) without a car (wherever I lived) because it would be "too traumatic". I was so furiously amused that I couldn't actually reply to this ridiculous comment.

The whole family was also expected to do the fetching, and we had to do it straightaway. When I pointed out this would mean taking the girls out of school - technically illegal - the dog ladies (because they always were) gave a telephone shrug as if that was quite inconsequential.

The dog books are the same, containing scant regard for resource pawprints. Here is where you learn that dog poo should be picked up in cheap nappy bags (which don't biodegrade); and dogs need to learn to love cars so they can be driven for walks. Call me old fashioned but I think it's better to start walking from where you are, not by driving to where you want to be.

This is not a campaign I will be putting a jot of time into - turn on dogs and you lose a huge swathe of people who just might have made an effort to cut their carbon emissions until they realise they love the enemy. Besides, I am looking forward to walking our puppy more as he gets big enough to do so and together we will muse on this strange, strange world.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Climate refugees on wobbly bridge

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer 2007 travelling around Britain. Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Friends arrive during half term for city sightseeing so we take them on London's best visitor route, the number 4 bus down to St Paul's Cathedral. Nearby the wobbly bridge over the Thames has sprouted mini tents. It's an idea by the German artist Hermann Josef Hack for Oxfam's Here & Now campaign timed to coincide with two-day EU heads of state and . The art installation is in seven cities including Amsterdam and Brussels.

Lola, Nell and Xander (now 10 and born in land-locked Zimbabwe) stretch out amongst the tents and get snapped while I calculate that the tents are 20cm high - just about the height the sea's already risen since 1900. You can find out more about what sea level rise means in the excellent new book for kids Gaia Warriors, by Nicola Davies which is published by Walker Books, £9.99, buy from Amazon.

20cm doesn't look much, but for countries like Tuvalu, or the Maldives where land is barely 1m above sea level this is serious stuff. No surprise that the big London march timed for the Copenhagen COP on Saturday December 5 is to be called The Wave. Find out more here.

Not everyone is impressed by story campaigns. I overhear an irritated woman on the bridge complaining that someone will break their ankle on the cardboard tents. She doesn't lack imagination, but is clearly having trouble with empathy. Does she know that The Maldives has a dynamo head of state, who has already conducted a cabinet meeting underwater to alert the world to his country's sinking future (lots more about the Maldives plight here). To date Tuvalu is less good at climate change PR but the funniest book I've ever read, Tales of the Tikongs, is by Epeli Hau'ofa from Tuvalu so clearly there are skilled wits on the islands who could if they wanted to do so.

What a loss it will be to have either of these countries turned Atlantis.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Arctic scare on Blog Action Day

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer 2007 travelling around Britain (pic is of a visit to Lapland via a Kent woodland). Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Waking up to the radio isn't a good idea. This morning it turns out that the explorers who tramped across the icy Arctic measuring ice cores have worked out that this frozen sea is going to melt very summer from around 2020. That's interesting says the radio voice, so good for shipping having a new route up top. Then a scientist, dispassionately, points out that this will really change the world's climate - instead of a lovely bright white world lid there will be a dark sea-colour shade. I guess the albedo effect sizzles up.

White to black is a big change.

For a moment I imagine frantically painting every roof in the UK white. We're not that far from the Arctic, would it help? And then I get angry, this scientist is Mr Calm. A Dickens' Gradgrind of facts - ironic seeing as it is world blog action day, see here. It's up to those of us able to feel how bad that is, to make a better fuss.

Actually people near where I live make more fuss about car parking, and school dinners, oh yes and dog poo, than this scientist is making about the Arctic's ice crisis.

I specialise in the small: being enery efficient at home; not having a car; helping out a school climate club; finding ways for secondary school students to store wet shoes and coats so it is more practical for them to walk to-and-from school.
My university students (on the odd days that I teach) look perplexed by the amount of green and climate changing examples I can dredge up. They are looking for facts from their tutor, not convictions. They find it odd to be asked to be more passionate in their research, their writing and thinking - especially as some feel quite distant from the course objectives. To try and unfreeze them I've asked the 24-year-old climate activist Tamsin Omond, who set up Climate Rush, to come and talk about what motivates her on tuesday 27 October at the London College of Communication's main lecture theatre (2.30-3.30pm if you want to join us, it's free but consider buying Tamsin's new book Rush: the making of a climate activist) available here.

I felt far more distant from the Arctic when I knew it was solid ice. Knowing it's giong to be a swishy, cold, dark sea gives me a horrible jolt. When my family next plays our travel game - being in the UK while pretending to be somewhere else through geographical, physical or cultural clues - we won't need to visit an ice rink to think Arctic.

We won't need to wait for a cold snap.

We won't need to detour to Kent to a Disneyesque-winter wonderland (see how we did it in the pic above).

We'll just pop out of the door and stand by the reservoir looking at the canoe club. We'll imagine they are the new polar explorers.

My hope is that small changes, the ideas of Friends of the Earth's Big Ask, or Age of Stupid film make Franny Armstrong's 10:10 or suggestions from the Government-backed Energy Saving Trust will help people make some changes to their lives that tackle climate change... and help slow down this predicted Arctic melt.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Energy journeys

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel but insist on keeping their carbon footprint down. Here's how (this post from Nicola)

Just been infuriated by feedback from some riding teaching I did back in July in which a dodgy old Yorkshire lady sounded off about my apparent lack of energy around eight-year-olds and four legged ponies. Funny how much I mind (never mind it not being true!) considering that the rest of my life is spent trying to be far more energy efficient.

And how well we feel we are doing - not just the travelling without planes or living without a car - but the way our end of terrace has been turned into a renewable power house. Since the solar PV was installed in summer 2008, we've generated 1,246kWh of electricity. Given our current summer usage, this is the equivalent of the sun gifting us 311 free leccy days. Nice eh?

It's not a simple calculation of course, as we're not off grid, but I am hoping to get a cheque for a decent amount from Good Energy (like the other 1,000+ renewable energy suppliers spread around the UK) before the end of this month.

At the moment I'm paying around 12p/kWh for using electricity, but expect to get 15p back for every sun-generated unit our panels clocked up. And next year this looks set to soar to 35p. Clearly being a low energy pioneer has a good cash side. Even if it marks you out for pony club disgrace.

Useful contacts for energy savers - to buy an energy metre, http://www.goodenergyshop.co.uk/, or to join the zillions of families trying to slash their energy use by 10 per cent each year see http://www.1010uk.org/.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Old Father Thames ain't wet

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but try not to rack up their carbon footprint as they go. Here's how...
If it wasn’t for the pile of dry pale rocks – and the engraved tombstone – by the corner of the wood you’d never guess this was the start of the River Thames. This September there’s no sign of water, although two fields away, at what’s known as the head of the Thames, you can clearly see the course of a river, even if that too is dry.

I’m used to the forceful, grey Thames of central London with its curves, boats and treasure-lined tidal shores, so it’s strange to see around 180 miles away that it starts off as a dry spring leading to a dry ditch. The track beside the outline river is well worn as many walkers enjoy tracking the Thames back to its Gloucestershire source, see how to do this at http://www.thames-path.org.uk/

We cheated the footslog by taking a detour from Kemble train station, following the well-signed Wysis Trail and then left on to the last stages of the Thames Path (about a mile and a half each way) to see our river’s birthplace, marked in marble with "The Conservators of the River Thames 1857 - 1974. This stone was placed here to mark the source of the River Thames". Unfortunately we are in such a hurry to catch our designated train back to London that we have to race the route, as if fleeing from the sort of floods that have recently hit Manila. We do not even have time to chat as we open gates/climb old steps, dodge cows or admire the heron flying by.

I’ve seen a volcano spring out of the sea, spitting red rocks into the Pacific waves. And the girls have seen chicks hatch, pecking and peeping and struggling through the shell. Dramatic enough births to oblige us all to puzzle how the UK’s greatest river (with apologies to the Tyne, Avon, Severn, Clyde and others) can have such a low-key start. Obviously deep waters can run to silt, although not if you’re here in a wet January (or so the potter-postcard seller by Kemble station would have us believe).

Tree heaven

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but try not to rack up their carbon footprint as they go. Here's how...

Walking along the twisting sanded path between some of the rarest, most impressive and unusal trees in the world is a treat. Add autumn colour from mid October through November from Japanese maples and you ‘re in for a sensory treat at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum in the postcard perfect Cotswolds. The collection is split into two enormous woods, the Old Arboreturn which dates back to the 1850s, or Britain’s largest collection of maples (and others) in the Silk Wood - an area so large it can take two hours to tour even without detours and the opportunity to gaze up trunks oohing and ahhing.

Lola’s learning the history of the Silk Road at the moment – the trade route that allowed East and West to switch influences, more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road – so it was no surprise that she turned us towards Westonbirt’s Silk Wood for a Sunday morning stroll. We enjoyed finding the tented weeping holly and a weeping Japanese cherry, the ubiquitous sequoia (not yet super tall but big and soft enough to be easily recognizable). But our party’s favourite – all ex or current Friends of the Earth employees/contributors, bar the two children – was the rare Japanese tree that smelt of caramel/burnt toast.

Westonbirt Arboretum is huge and plays an important role even now collecting rare species, preserving seed and raising super-trees. It’s a tree gene pool but also a feast for the eyes. Autumn inspires many tree events, most you can just turn up for, but see the list here www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt but there’s also xmas lights, winter walks, photo displays, fungi hunts etc. If you’re taking younger children, get your under 5s trying the “exploratree” play area or other activities, see www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-families.

Like Kew Gardens Westonbirt showcases British gardeners’ ability to grow just about anything, hinting at the English colonial presence all over the world, but it’s also a place you can know nothing about trees or plants and just enjoy a stroll knowing you won’t get very lost, and even if you do someone will be able to direct you to a coffee shop.

And if you’ve never been there before, don’t be distracted by the woods, first go to the Great Oak Hall, open from 10am-4pm, and find out where to see some of the 100 champion trees (VIP trees with blue ID tags) and when to join the free info tours.

Westonbirt Arboretum is disappointingly hard to reach by public transport (and you’ll need to pre book taxis) but if you do arrive by foot – try the Monarch’s Way www.ramblers.org.uk/ out of nearby Tetbury http://www.visittetbury.co.uk/ which bypasses Prince Charles’ Highgrove – then the entrance fee is slashed.

Another country: perfect Costwolds

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but try not to rack up their carbon footprint as they go. Here's how...
“Is it one of the made up Cotswold towns,” asks my London neighbour after I describe a weekend in Tetbury glowingly. I’m not sure about this – guessing one of Oxfordshire’s Upper or Lower Slaughters could have been just to keep the visitors trapped in a Cotswold beauty ghetto – but the old wool town of Tetbury http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetbury is astonishing. We arrive in perfect September sun to see many other visitors enjoying pavement gourmet meals, the public loos are squeaky clean, the postcard recommendation to look out for St Mary’s church and the Chipping Steps easily found. No surprise it is a 2009 Britain in Bloom finalist.

The evening is spent at a perfect wedding held in the nearby Great Tythe Barn – then again Helen and Chris claim they have had 20 years to plan it!

Back in Tetbury central on the Sunday there’s a food festival (with English wines, Highgrove organic produce from the Veg Shed, prize winning local made organic smoked brie) and the village hall has an art show Even the B&Bs are themed – the lovely one we stayed in was pure House & Garden perfection with its low beams, model owner and delicious breakfast; another is above a chocolatier; a third transports you to India through artifacts and incense.

Tetbury has always been the place you might meet royalty – and since March 2008 you can step into the shopwindow opposite Somerfield’s thanks to Prince Charles opening the Highgrove shop www.highgroveshop.com/ . It’s an upmarket style center for modern posh with wooden apple trays, hen-bedecked aprons and pottery tablewear. Old farm tools have been clustered together like decorative weaponry. There are books extolling the organic, country life and I love the fact that profits from the sale of these products goes towards The Prince’s Charities Foundation – an altruistic offer that makes me wonder why people so often slag Charles off (or should I be writing “Your Majesty/Sir??”) as a NEET who is rich (or silly) enough to be not in employment, education or training.

A local resident resists praise for the town too. He claims the problem with Tetbury is it has no middle class, just posh or forelock tuggers, and it’s only really bustling at weekends as the townies drift in for their Saturday of rural unwinding with the very best food. He says I need to get myself to Nailsworth, or read reports of crime from Stroud for a real touch of Cotswold life. Even so, the next visitors I get who want to see a snapshot of old fashioned England –will be given a map to get themselves to Tetbury.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Souk for the soul

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but try not to rack up their carbon footprint as they go. Here's how...

Today spent a happy half hour at my favourite local shop, Unpackaged in Amwell Street, where the food is wholesome and the staff (well Cath) emails you if they haven't seen you for a while - not to chase your cash, but to check that you are OK. How caring is that? The bill is always complicated by 50 pences off each container you bring and 10 per cent Wedge card discount etc, so Cath showed me a calculator version of the final tally as if we were in the souk and I couldn't quite get my head around the bargain carpet I'd negotiated over Moroccan tea. Admittedly I went home with rather less extravagant (and easier to carry) purchases, but it was a lovely out-of-UK shopping moment. I can't promise you'll be offered a repeat souk skit, but there's plenty of other reasons to go to Unpackaged yourself. And it's the shop's second birthday in November too.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Heather on Ilkley Moor

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but try not to rack up their carbon footprint as they go. Here's how...

A suprisingly beautiful day in west Yorkshire (we are staying in Shipley as part of a house swap with friends) inspired us to go to Ilkley and up to the famous moor. Anyone who has been here would know that Ilkley is a busy tourist spot, there's even a Pizza Express and an M&S at the station - amazing if you compare it to Keighley which isn't so far away.

In fact it's been a busy tourist trap for years. Charles Darwin stayed here with his family, at a big house now called Hillside (with blue plaque), to correct the proofs of Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin always thought he was ailing so he came partly to try out the waters at White Wells. Nowadays it is a cafe (flags from all nations up when it is open) but then you popped up for an icy plunge bath. The Victorian copy writers managed to convince the public that the Romans used to use it and that it was an unmissable experience with water that is "mellifluent, diaphanous, limpid, luminous transparent, pellucid" and the "nectar of gods and goddesses".

Darwin probably believed them, and probably had a dip too. When you realise how gullible he could be it makes his discoveries all the more amazing.

But we're tourists too - so off we go along the path to the Rocky Valley and over to the Cow & Calf rocks but on a route that just misses the Pancake rocks. On the way Pete is determined to see the cup marked rocks (there are masses marked on OS maps in this area) but when we find one scored with rings he dismisses it as local (possibly Victorian) grafitti. How we laugh when he later looks at the map and realises that was the real McCoy.

Just as they probably said about Darwin in Chile we rather implied that when it comes to fools on the look out for rocks/specimens, etc, well there's one born every minute.

And then we walked back down the path to the train station via a cart stall offering Yorkshiredales ice creams by a long-suffering, midge bitten Pole or Romanian man. I was very happy to buy his cones and stuffed with sugary cream quickly shot Ilkely Moor into the best place for a walk that I know. In summer it's got everything: prehistory, rocks, signage, controversy, scrambling opps and a cafe and ice creams.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Carlisle's Talk of the Town

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel

Best way of getting to know a place besides walking it? Reading it. And so in Carlisle I've come across Jacob Polley's new book – Talk of the Town. He's better known as a poet and this is his first novel but it is hauntingly good. Good enough to win a Man Booker. I like the way he used to work in Waterstones in Carlisle and plenty of the current shop assistants remember him well.

No point giving away the story - a 13 year old boy's confusion about everything - but I can't shake off the need to see if the huge statue of Queen Victoria in Bitt's Park really does have an unnecessary bit of anatomy!
Just shows how easy it is to be susceptible to rumours whatever age you are. See Jacob talk about his book on You Tube here.

Hadrian's Wall: the end & haaf fishing

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel

It's 84 miles (135km), was built in six years and the only World Heritage Site to have a long-distance footpath along it. So this is Hadrian's Wall – a 2,000 year old map route from Newcastle's Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. And as a family we have now managed 59 miles of it stretching from Chollerford (Hexham) over to the edge of the Solway Firth (Carlisle).

There was a tourist perfect end to the walk – a Roman(esque) recreation of an Edwardian viewing point at the Banks, just off the village, which offered a poetic view to Scotland. As we sat and half contemplated our as-good-as-finish of Hadrian's Wall a man walked out with his 18 foot Haaf net to fish the tides for salmon etc. Wading out he looked like Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North on the move. With the silvery light, our soon to be rested aching feet and this snapshot of a 1,000 year old fishing skill (brought here by the Vikings) it was the most atmospheric moment of the whole walk. And that includes meeting men dressed as centurions, the re-enactors at Halsteads Fort and even witnessing the Roman shoe dug out in front of us at Vindolanda.

Living history is not yet going into the supermarket and choosing our food, or for that matter tapping out blog entries. Living history feels like watching a fishermen with a weirdy net or retracing a Roman soldiers' path within earshot of a dual carriageway.

Admittedly I did rather turn the end of our epic journey into a shopping saga by stopping off at the King's Arms, 016973 51426, to buy sew on Hadrian's Wall badges and postcards. Pete can do celebrating fine with just a pint.**

I wanted to find out more about haff fishing but it was luck that we stopped off at the Highland Laddie pub in Glasson as this is were you can find Mark Messenger, highlandladdie@talktalk.net, who'll take you out to fish the age old way for salmon, grilse (young salmon), sea trout, grey mullet, bass and flounder. He's also the secretary of a new haaf fishing association - see more on page 5 of this document about the Solway Firth here, which explains why haaf fishing is endangered now it can only be practiced between 10am-10pm.

There's even a festival - the Haafest salmon and beer festival from 5-6 September 2009. Equipment is provided (you wear your own waterproof jacket) including the haafnet and waders, though you need to be fit enough to stand in cold water for a couple of hours. Or just enjoy Jennings beer and local bands.

Be tempted when you find out that “haaf net fishing is one of the best excuses there is to stand right in the middle of one of the last wildernesses in the British Isles and explore the magnetism of the Solway Firth.” You could even see seals and porpoises and of course the many migratory wading birds that stuff themselves on the rich tidal waters and marsh land.

**Useful guide for Hadrian's Wall is Hadrian's Wall Path by Anthony Burton (Aurum, £12.99) which makes the route incredibly clear though fails to do justice to the many contrasts of the walk, or name all the pubs and which stock the best ales.

Perfect mountan hideaway

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel

The Wasdale Head Inn looks like a tiny white Lakeland cottage nestling in the flat green valley below the big mountains that ring it. But it's a mecca for anyone passing through this valley thanks to its micro-brewery, rooms and self catering apartments and a walkers/climbers equipment shop. As we stomp through the rain – Nell slithering in wellies as her feet have suddenly grown – the word INN in huge font gets pleasingly nearer... We will be happy here, no doubt.

And we are – the first day it's good enough weather to see that only the tops are in cloud – so we set out to climb Lingmell. There's a pretty walk along Moses Trod (good name eh with hints of tradition, poetry and anticipation?) with the river on the right but as we climb up the hillside it's obvious that we are approaching from an awkward angle. Quick change of plans and we swerve left and up the fell to the place where four paths cross. Here, there's a teeny tarn the kids start throwing rocks into (not sure this is a good thing but they are happy and recharging) while I look around for a mountain to climb. Eenie, meenie, minie, mo... There's so many tops we could be in the Pyrennes, Alps or Nepal...

Most people go up Scafell Pike (England's biggest) but we are so close to Great Gable here – it's top is just 300m up which is an hour long staircase climb. Or something like that, and soon we huff and puff ourselves to the top, which is a bit cloudy cheating us of the stunning Wasdale Head view we should have. Not that it matters at all – the kids have climbed their second big mountain – and the views as we descend Great Gable are sublime. Even when the cloud wafts out the big picture Nell is enchanted by being inside cloud. It's like flying, but more DIY.

The next day Pete walks off his stiffness by doing five tops, Pillar etc, up the other, less crowded valley, and we all celebrate with chocolate cake and pasta when he makes it down: contented albeit 50. A proper happy birthday to be alone in the mountains contemplating...

The Wasdale Head Inn is not a chi-chi place. It's the birthplace for British climbing so is filled with climbing memorabilia – ice picks, photos of men in tweed and weather reports. It feels very male with its wooden panelled rooms (and no hot water while we are there in our apartment), but it hums with anticipation and adventure, and we all want to go back soon.

Adventure by train

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel

Pete wants to get away for it all for a big birthday and this apparently means visiting Wast Water – the most isolated of all the Lake District's lakes. I'm up for it but looking at the map think maybe we need to rent a car. No insists Pete, we will take a train down the west coast from Carlisle – looking at wind turbines (he knows how to tempt me) – and then the steam train from Ravenglass over to Dalegarth. And then it's a three hour walk over the corpse road.

At 9am when we catch the first train out of Carlisle, it's raining. But Nell occupies herself by hoola hooping in the luggage compartment and the rest of us read so who cares about the lovely view – including the spot at St Bees where Pete and I eons ago started the Coast to Coast walk?

Two hours later (this is not a commuter line) we switch to the pint sized steam train at Ravenglass & Eskdale, http://www.ravenglass-railway.co.uk/, 01229 717171 . The station is packed with visitors – despite needing to pay a £10.80 adult fare and £5.40 child (dogs are £1.50 and cycles £3) but the seven mile open-air chug is fantastic, especially after grabbing a cuppa at Jan's Cafe on platform 1 (the food here is so good this would be enough of a day trip for me as I remember the Lakes when good food wasn't guaranteed anywhere). We find two little carriages, squeeze on our luggage and as the train toots out of the station find we are all grinning wildly. It's amazing how much more you enjoy yourself the slower you go. Each of our train journeys has only got better as the speed stutters to a walking pace. Even the girls are pointing out ash, oak , rowan (trees) and Herdwick (sheep) between sweet swapping and jokes. This s-l-o-w-i-n-g down has to be a good sign for the next phase: crossing that moorland corpse road over to the Wasdale Head Inn, http://www.wasdaleheadinn.co.uk/.

We offload our luggage with a mate of the hotel owner – thank you for this! - who then makes an hour or more drive I reckon to get back there; bypass two lovely looking pubs; pop into Lakeland's oldest working water mill, quickly picnic and then the rain starts up again. But it doesn't matter we're in our walking boots, at the start of our holiday heading towards England's deepest lake, highest mountains and smallest church (admittedly this is less of a draw).

Definitely an adventure for all of us to walk to our hotel. Even when there's a lot of walking ahead...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Loving our borrowed dog

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell like to travel without racking up their carbon footprint

We like travel, and we like dogs too, usually incompatible. This time we've lucked out and borrowed a wonderful dog for two months while his family cross six continents ticking off the dom-toms (French colonies). And all because I was earwigging in Islington's music shop...
You can read all about our borrowed dog's family's doings, right from their start in the little known St Pierre et Miquelon, here. I've been reading dog owner Rosie Millard's travels to Disney from the Sunday Times and he agrees it is meant to include Martinique, French Guyana, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and La Reunion (but not Wallis & Fortuna), and can we now turn the TV back to Simon Cowell or Hannah Montana, or just fiddle around for a bit longer on Club Penguin? Yes, our borrowed dog likes TV.

As newbie city dog owners we're also getting used to getting up when Disney wakes, picking up four poos a day and enjoying his enthusiasm for balls, walks and us. It's amazing how quickly a well-trained dog fits into your life...

Pirates at home

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel

OK I admit that for ships in the Gulf of Aden the Somalian pirates are a problem, but it's hard not to want to be a pirate at fancy dress parties, imaginging a look that mixes Russell Brand's attitude, Captain Flint's reputation and Jack Sparrows' stunning looks - and that's just the girls. So we've squeezed into our tiny garden a pirate experience - floating platform, Jolly Roger, pondlife views - to enable us to take off on the high seas whenever we want.

To my surprise the first voyage never made it to the Caribbean, instead we saw off kling ons on the starboard bow and then detoured via night sky constellations until we heard someone like Long John Silver tapping down the street, got frighted and sneaked back inside for a bedtime read of Treasure Island.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Local news

Pete, Nicola, Lola (seen here publicising a plasticbagfreehighburybarn film show event) and Nell love travelling but like to do it in a way that keeps their carbon footprint low. So that's no planes, occasional trains, car club cars and enthusiastic biking when we cannot walk. This post is from Nicola

Just had a weekend staying or meeting up with friends who've left London. I wish they'd stayed put, but it was fun chatting as we rowed from the Bath Boating Station down the Avon. One week later the blisters are patching themselves up. The south west, it's a dangerous place...

Back home we have been busy in our street encouraging neighbours to plant up their tree pits with poppies, camomile and other native wild flower seeds. Lola, Nell and I clear up the pit - retching slightly as we flush dog poo down our loo, put the tossed cola cans into the recycling bins, dig up the current plants for green waste recycling and plop cigarette butts into the dustbin for landfill. I wanted to grow carrots but the dog poo really puts me off. This is a tame version of guerrila gardening, but I like the idea that my kids are already so used to community cheerleading. And it led to some interesting chat about the sunflowers and sweet corn I've seen growing on roundabouts in Nairobi, Honiara and here in London near Blackfriars Bridge.

So far nine of our street's trees are planted up by their nearest neighbours and adorned with a green ribbon to show there's big tree love out there.

Next project is to get clothes swapping going in our school. The plan is to get parents and carers to bring unwanted clothes for 0-11 year olds to the school one Friday. They can just give them, or take other items or give and take. It's a good idea but definitely a trial.

The swishes held for mums have been very successful but if we are ever to crack fast fashion then swapping clothes is a no brainer. The problem is that if parents have never been tempted by secondhand clothing, then they often feel ashamed to kit their children out in it. At least that's how my Somali, Bengali and Turkish friends put it. How different life is for Lola and Nell - really I'm surprised I didn't get pre-loved children given my enthusiasm for all things secondhand/vintage/freecycled etc.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Wales at easter

Pete with pretend-to-be cossacks Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel but stay off planes to keep their carbon footprint down. Here's how they satisfy their passion for travel, this time using one of the oldest ways of getting around - on a horse
Wales used to be the UK’s best kept secret. It’s got the most gorgeous scenery, rolling hills that are steep enough to make you puff just looking at them; castles; activities, coastline and those green, green valleys. It’s got great poets, Taliesin(s) and lyrical Dylan Thomas to heroes such as Glyndwr and that girl from the Mumbles (no, I'm not thinking of Charlotte Church).

It’s also wooed and won a lot of my friends so in order to make a visit to Llanidloes we were happy to housesit a combination of geese, hens, cats, horses and seedlings while our hosts took a mini break in their camper van from housesitting her mum’s place while she’s off working in Lesotho. A complicated bit of house swapping to organise (as a friend of our hostess also moved into our house in London), but five horsy days for me and the kids doing country stuff.
For Lola the highlight was bareback rounding up of sheep (!). Nell was delighted to go on her first hacks, have the big dog lick her hand and watch her mum treat geese as nervously as if they were a herd of rhinos. There scarier in fact.

A real treat was to saddle up the horses – grey Herbie and liver chestnut Rosie who was born on the farm – and take the girls for a ride up over the hills. It was hot and the last few lambs were popping out in one field which inspired lengthy discussion about why sheep don’t eat their placentas (much), how many placentas twin lambs create and human connected fact of life questions.

And then it was time to trot to the moor and Lola lent forward, clutching the mane, imagining herself as Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie fame) galloping bareback On the Shores of Silver Creek. While Nell was being a Nellie – find out which you are at the cute quiz site Are you a Nellie (spunky) or a good natured Laura, http://www.littlehousebooks.com/fun/nelliequiz.cfm

Content as I was, riding out with my two girls – who I’ve taught to ride despite their London address (a miracle really but it may come in handy come the fossil fuel cutbacks as this is the original renewable way of getting around until the bike was introduced) - I couldn’t resist dreaming of other horse nations where the mum would stick the kids on the GGs to make getting around more fun, and a great deal quicker. And within seconds the beautiful 360 degree skyline of wind farms and bleatingly busy ewes disappeared so Lola, Nell and I could cross the old soviet steppes Cossack style on our way to summer grazing. And as we looked for finger posts taking us along the National Trail my imagination was ticking off the horse-lovers Stans – Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a bit like TV Alexandra Tolstoy's rides with horse people of the word (see what the Guardian makes of her show here).

But less posh - because back in 1985 visiting a uni friend, Nicky, whose family were based in Islamabad, Pakistan I went to the North West Frontier Province, after a bumpy flight from Peshawar up to Chitral, which is very close to the Afghan border. I remember being aghast at the number of kalashnikovs slung over men’s shoulders, and stunned by how many Afghani refugees were forced to make new lives in an area that looked so bad for crop growing – although maybe I visited in the wrong season as this part of the silk road is famous for apricot orchards.

Dressed up in shalwar kameez (and sun glasses which rather ruined the common touch) Nicky and I looked at the sites, ate the delicious apricots and debated maternal health until we were invited to watch from the Prince’s dias (well he said he was) the amazing game of buzkashi played (in Uzbekistan it’s called uloq). Buzkashi is a kind of polo with a goat carcass used as the ball.. It’s very fast, only men do it (I think only men watch it but I guess Nicky and I were treated as honorary man) and at that particular contest a clarinet and drum band beat out a rider’s signature tune whenever they were on the ball.
It was a surreal afternoon – English polo has never seemed so exciting again, even when it’s injected with Argentinian verve and skill.

Now even the simple pleasure of a morning ride with my daughters surprises me. It's not just that we live in central London, or that Nell's asthma is made worse by the beasts, or the cost (although all are relevant) it's the surprise of having got to be old enough to hack out with my own children. The Welsh views may distract eco-bunny me - we counted enough wind turbines to provide energy for nearly 7,000 households but I'll have to check this - but when I'm around horses I feel just as I did as an eight year old out for a ride: happy, ready to canter and in touch with the place I am.
Horsiculture is maligned for being elitist, pricey and a little bit obsessional - so as a part time riding coach I'm delighted to see that a few environmental writers, specifically Mark Lynas and Sharon Astyk, have suggested horse transport may be the way to go. I don't for a moment think they were serious, but it's a good reminder that everyone used to be able to get around without using any fuel save grass, hay and oats.

Cycling via Tashkent

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - but they don't want to hike up their carbon emissions by taking the plane. Here's how they stay home and satisfy their passion for travel

A month ago I was returning a borrowed bike to my sister-in-law in Hertfordshire the lazy way… ie, I wheeled it on to the Stansted Express train from Liverpool Street station, London to Bishop’s Stortford - knocking 30 miles off my pedaling. I probably could have been picked up in Hertfordshire but it was a lovely spring day so at Bishop's Stortford I got off and cycled the 7 miles to my old home near Little Hadham as happy as a cyclist with the wind behind them, and light panniers, can be.

The train journey was fun too as I had a long chat with the barista (if that’s the right word for the guy who runs the trolley service of hot drinks and snacks) who came from Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan (and once far better known in the West as it was a main stopover on the Europe to China silk road). The barista was a brilliant ambassador for Uzbekistan – he didn’t just give a check list of where to go (Samarkand obviously…) he also summarized what the place is like.

For example the autocractic president is head of state, and head of government – so no room for dissent. Indeed President Islam Karimov is already on his 3rd stint in office (only legal to do two stints according to the constitution). Interestingly he was raised in a Soviet orphanage which must have been tough. His Harvard-educated daughter, Gulnara Karimova, is maybe the one to watch. She secured popular support with her music video releases (using the stage name GooGoosha), groovy enough – listen at

Karimova is not just a wealthy woman – from her businesses and her divorce from Mansur Maqsudi, she’s a fashion designer, chicly dressed and my coffee-serving friend admires her hugely, calling her “clever”. From what I can see on the web she’s Islam Karimov’s heir apparent too…

Instead of watching the Lea Valley go by (you could do the same at the cycle ride here), I got a black coffee and a potted history of politics Uzbekistan-style. Lucky me. And to think I’d written off the Stansted Express as a rather expensive whiz to my old home with little chance of getting a seat as it’s so often packed by minibreakers (careless of their carbon footprints) flying dirt cheap to Scotland and Sweden – and a few other Euro airports. You can see why that's bad if you watch The Age of Stupid...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Egyptian princess

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell are finding novel ways to travel the world without leaving Britain. Just been to Egypt without even leaving the kitchen table...

Nell adores leraning about ancient Egypt and her dad would dearly like to see the pyramids. Luckily for us there's the British Museum to snoop around. After a school visit Nell made her own ancient Egyptian jewellery (crown, arm amulet and gaudy necklace) from paper and string, see photo.

Then a few days ago my friend Nicky - who is driving across Africa with her sons - sent a birthday gift wrapped up in Arabic tape postmarked from a hotel near the pyramids. Nell was thrilled. She sepnt nearly 15 minutes studying the brown paper wrapped parcel, fiddled with the tape and traced the hieroglyphs until finally she could not resist opening it up.

Inside was a beautiful wooden box -not quite made from cedar or suitable for the world-famous Alexandria library - but nearly, and in that was a dashing blue beaded hat that turns Nell into an Egyptian princess. Though I think she prefers the idea of being a bellydancing babe.

Riverside finds

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel the world but like to find original ways to keep their carbon footprint down for the journey. This time we went back to medieval London

There's no such thing as away. When it comes to plastic bags in landfill this is a disaster. When it comes to the excitement of finding a 500 year old sole by the River Thames it's exciting.

Lola, Nell and I were showing a 9-year-old friend from Yorkshire, Izzy, around the South Bank recently and found an old shoe sole with little nails sticking out on the beach below the Tate Modern after getting our eye in spotting lots of bits of broken clay smoking pipes.

We gave the sole to our visitor to take home and her mum Julia showed it to an archaeologist. Can you believe it was more than 500 years old? Here's what the archaeologist said:

"I have looked at the shoe in the Museum of London Finds Catalogue and it is Medieval. It is a standard man's shoe (small size) that would probably have been worn by an artisan or merchant.Unfortunately its design remained the same for a very long period indeed and so it could date from anywhere from 1175 to about 1450. Aristocratic footware,the platform built pattens and pointy poulaines changed design frequently and so are more easily datable."

Monday, 2 March 2009

Another brick in the wall

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel - without racking up our carbon footprint. This weekend trip took in two institutions - the Queen's most visited castle home at Windsor and the poshest of the boys' boarding schools, Eton. Post by Nicola

It's where they train boys to become young men. It costs an arm and a leg and relies on a mixture of great teachers, tradition, snobbery and parents willingness to pay up, pay on. Eton is only for boys, a great shame as Lola thought she'd like to go there... and now she has, but just for a day trip to see my godson.

Here Nell, Lola and George look left towards Eton's famous wall - a bit bellying but still used for the inexplicable (aka unique) wall game. The tree with the white band that hasn't been hit for 200 years is on the far right.

And then around Windsor Castle where we saw some of the most wonderful portraits of Charles 1, Henry VIII and the 13 year old Elizabeth 1. As with all the royal palaces (or historic palaces) it's expensive to do a tour but you can reuse your ticket for the next year.

Lola and Nell were impressed by the world's biggest carpet beneath the world's biggest mahogany table. I liked the banks of spring flowers by the waterfall beneath the towers. And the magnificent dolls' house which we even bought a guide book for, and has proved a pleasure to flick through.

Windsor is a crowded town, and not just filled with tourists, but it was a lovely day trip even if we felt in such an English environment there was no way we could pretend we were anywhere else. Now that's something that's never happened before.

Big spin

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell are trying to visit as many countries as possible without increasing their carbon footprint. This entry is from Nicola

The mild spring days of February inspired us to get on our bikes to pedal around Broxbourne woods in Hertfordshire (reached via the train that seems to run from our doorstep straight to a hornbeam/oak ancient woodland). The stop is Bayford, and as an added bonus just a short cycle ride up the hill there's even a gastro pub specialising in home cooked food and real ale at the Baker Arms .
With the sun above, these lovely woods smelt of warming earth, and magic visitors to play. Nell set up a shop in one forked ash tree while I took loads of photos of buds and deer baskets (woven fences to stop the muntjac and other nibbly beasties from coppicing coppiced timber to death).
Pete wanted to time travel, so stared at the info panels hoping it would reveal how he could join the Celtic camp that's run annually deep in the woods near Brickendon. Sadly the panels didn't, but there's info here about how to join the history makers at the Celtic Harmony camp.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Dragon stance

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world without racking up their carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola
Korea is one of the countries I don't expect to know about. It's far away, mysterious and I haven't yet had any students from there. China yes. Taiwan yes. But this half-term week after a fascinating detour to the V&A museum (the Natural History Museum was just too crowded) we all found out about Korea's early writing programme for the masses, the way Buddhist texts were written up and the importance of dragons. Most of the dragons were on decorative china pieces but bold, lithe and perfectly scary. As we'd just seen a lifesize sculpture of George slaughtering a dragon in the plaster court, dragons seemed to have become the dominant animal force in the East wing...

While there a text pinged in from the girls' tae kwondo instructor, Michael, suggesting that they used half term to prepare for some tests (belts). That's how I know that this amazing hand/foot discipline was born in Korea on 11 April 1955. Bizarrely for the past couple of years our family has even been using a few Korean words - all thanks to the stances the kids learn in tae kwondo - without realising just where they came from. Not long ago Pete even wrote about it in the Guardian, see here to find out if we ever found our 'indomitable spirit'.
I'm afraid to say that there wasn't really a dragon's chance for me.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Shark adventure

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel around the world without hiking up their carbon footprint. Can you help us? This post is from Nicola and Nell.

"I'd never seen sharks before. I really was interested," says Nell.
We took her and six friends (plus Lola) so eight - because she was eight - to the London Aquarium (see line-up above). The Aquarium is a bit dismal at the moment because are building works until Easter. But the kids adored seeing a tank full of huge sharks swimming in a Pacific ocean (salted Thames water) and then listening to a talk about the different types of shark. Behind the acetate tank the sharks looked very menacing as they loomed up to the sides and then dodged around the replica Easter Island heads.
Horrifyingly 100s of 1000s of sharks are killed each year for their fins - to make the supposed delicacy shark fin soup. I used to like eating fish, and when I did found it hard to snorkel as my mouth kept watering... but really how could a fin look tasty? It's mystifying. Meanwhile the shark keepers did a great job explaining to the children why they really shouldn't pick shark's fin soup if they ever go to an Asian country serving it. Lesson learnt we all went and ate homemade cake (made by Nell!) on the grass near the London Eye.


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell are finding ways to have fun travelling the world without hiking up their carbon footprints. Today's entry inspired by back to the future...

"Years ago New Labour said they’d slash CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Of course they didn’t - and thank goodness. If we’d followed that crazy line of “save the world” thinking then we wouldn’t have built all these lovely towering offices for the fossil fuel extractors up at the Arctic? And as you can see from this pic (taken just last week) the kids still know how to play with snow."

(Back to 2009) Actually I took this pic near the London Eye during Nell’s 8th birthday party. The kids really enjoyed running between the snow islands. But it's a very sad image: almost a foretaste of the world we really, really don’t want…
To cheer us all up, here’s another pic of our snowy garden (Jan 2009). It’s really warm and spring like today (Feb 2009) – 11C – a relief after five weeks of freezy weather with enough snow to close schools, make skiing to work a possibility, tobogganing the streets essential and the chance of the mercury hitting anything above 0C (at night) a rarity.

Bah humbug

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell are enjoying travelling the world without hiking up their carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

We are all sweet on Yorkshire and have already managed to visit for a weekend this January. Our friends’ house was a bit parky (you could see your breath in all the upstairs rooms and it was pretty chilly downstairs too before the fires were lit). But it helped us realize how tough people had to be before central heating, and how much warmer our home has become thanks to tackling the draughts.

Over the weekend we soon realised that you need to keep busy - ideally outside - in order to stay warm. I cycled miles to keep my blood circulating, and the kids rode ponies too (well Wurzel, see below) for added adrenalin we had a close encounter with a hedge trimmer...

Maybe only visitors feel the cold up North? The 13 and 9 year old who live there didn't seem to think it was that chilly and rarely wore more than a T and a sweatshirt.

I should have bought them all thermals, instead for a treat I let the younger kids all choose a monster bag of sweets. In the pic at the top Nell, 7; Lola, 10 and Ned, 9 show off their swag.
You don’t have to go to Masham (also the home of the Black Sheep Brewery) in North Yorkshire to get your hands on their aniseed balls, fudge, flying saucers, traffic light lollies and other favourites. You can also log on here for old-fashioned sweetie choices.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

It's colder than Antarctica

How do you travel around the world without amassing a huge carbon footprint? Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell have found a way. This time we're dressing as if we are in the South Pole.

January 2009 has seen such a long cold snap that I'm now resigned to wearing seven layers in the house - two are fleece, one is thermal, another is wool - to stay warm enough to sit at the computer. Trafalgar Square's fountains have iced over; even our hens' water container needs thawing out. Although London hasn't got chillier than -2C (low enough), places in Britain have recorded a freezing -10C on more than one night.

The only way to keep warm is to keep moving - so I take the girls skating at Broadgate Ice Rink (opening info on tel: 020 7505 4037) which stays open until early March.
Judging by the picture they felt fobbed off: I'd said we were going somewhere even chillier than parts of Antarctica. According to BBC weather reports and in the freebie Metro, here, I did not lie.

In France by default

How do you travel the world without amassing a huge carbon footprint? Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell have found a way. This time we're off to France via Crystal Palace, south London.

I always moan that I won't go south of the River Thames (showing me to be spoilt, misguided and lacking an A-Z), but somehow last Saturday involved a journey from up north to Crystal Palace and back; and later on from up north to Brixton and back. Quel horreur! (excuse my French and spelling).

You see with St Pancras station so close I've been revelling in the fact that Paris is now nearer than Clapham. It's definitely nearer than Crystal Palace. However the house warming we've been invited to is in SE19 so, reluctantly, I decide we're going to make a family trip. Passports optional.

Of course the party is a joy. Lots of delicious warm cider, fabulous eats, kids for the kids to play with, grown ups to catch up with, views to die for out of every window (including a big dog fox in the garden). And it turns out that this may not be France, but it is a petit France. Jess and Tim's friendly neighbour is not just French but a Francophile Crystal Palace tour guide. It turns out that the Impressionist Pissarro used to paint around here - including Sydenham station.
While the French novelist Emile Zola escaped imprisonment for his "libellous" reporting of the controversial Dreyfus case (which kicked off in 1894 and lasted until 1906) by coming to London and staying at Queen's Hotel, 122 Church Road nearby (and not far from Fox Hill, see photo*). Zola lived at the hotel from 1898-99, a residence remembered by a blue plaque. I'd love to find out what he thought of London then. You can find out more about Dreyfus and Zola's masterful newspaper piece, J'accuse here.
The all-things-French base may have moved towards South Ken some decades (centuries!) ago, but on the right day (30C in the shade sipping dry white wine talking philosophy and the latest doings of Jean-Yves Katalan) Crystal Palace might easily be mistaken for France.

And actually it didn't take that long to get here, thanks to the overland from Victoria station.

* The snap is of one of the area's most desirable streets - prettily named, and with a woodland walk just strides away.