A-Z activities

A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Saturday, 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...