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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.

Monday, 28 September 2009

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.

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