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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.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Best of Bristol

One family's tips on how to travel the world without leaving home, much. This post is a local's guide to the best of green Bristol (thank you Helen!). Cobbled together by Nicola Baird, also see http://homemadekids.co.uk/

Bristol has 2 million people, two vast open spaces, loads of green lungs (parks, play space, Sustrans routes) and it's not far from Wales, Devon or the Cotswolds. What's not to like? Well my friends keep moving there... when I'd prefer them to live nearer me. But the result is great insider knowledge: so here's insights from a local on how to enjoy yourself on a walking tour of the city, even during rain. Most are free, and certainly interesting.

And if you go on a Wednesday you can choose a picnic at Bristol Farmers' Market (approx 9.30am-2pm) or just enjoy the markets at St Nicholas in the old town running from monday to Saturday the whole day, see details here.

Around the Harbourside/Waterfront area there's plenty to see. also look out for the Arnolfini gallery (next to the YHA) see here.

Behind the Watershed/Bordeaux Quay is Millennium Square - good place to hang if sunny - and home to @Bristol (science museum).

Slightly up the hill from there is the Cathedral, Council House and College Green (which I've taken to my family once for a picnic to Stop Bristol Airport expansion...).

Going over the river you can head out to SS Great Britain (ferry boats also an option), see here.

If you go a bit further along the river, you get a view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and you can visit an eco house at the Create Centre. It's a big red warehouse building on the left hand bank where the river splits (this is about 20 mins walk from Anolfini). May be possible to take the tourist bus from Create up to the Downs for views of the bridge, gorge etc.

Or stay down near the centre, Red Lodge is interesting and free, see here.

No Banksy
Further up the hill (just carry on up Park Street from Council House/ Park Row from Red Lodge) to Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery - also free. No Banksy on show now but plenty of quirky items, see here.

Or over in Stokes Croft - Bristol's (alternative) cultural quarter, the People's Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) has just opened the Stokes Croft Museum. Admission costs £1 and it's tiny - but entertaining. Open Wednesday 11am-3pm. See here.

Given the stress on all things green and alternative culture, it could be said that visiting Bristol could get you thinking you are in a time warped, left bank France - the city has got Montpellier after all. But it's also got a big Caribbean community and in Stokes Croft you can find nearly 50 artists working at Jamaica Street artists, here.

Trendy offices
Opposite the museum is Hamilton House, now home to Coexist and interesting shared office space (there's a rumour about a soon-to-be-built green roof and a wood fired hot tub), and The Canteen - which is the ground floor bar/cafe with nice coffee and a big terrace for outdoor lounging. This is also where Bristol Green Doors office is based (about 20 mins from Red Lodge, you just follow Park Row past the hopsital and then go left along to Jamaica Street and you come out on Stokes Croft just below the museum).

Solar swim
There's also the solar-heated Bristol Lido - edge of Clifton, up the hill fromt he musuem, near the BBC. But it's expensive to swim (£15 afternoons only). There is a cafe bar too which is open to the public.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Staycation gorge

One family's tips on how to travel the world without leaving home, much. This post takes us to the Grand Canyon, via Somerset's immense Cheddar Gorge, and is by Nicola Baird (also see www.homemadekids.co.uk)

We're in Wiltshire house sitting for a while (this is a brilliant way to holiday cheaply). In fact just swapping houses for a night gives you a sense of living quite differently. Pat Barker, winner of the 1995 Booker prize, calls time spent in another person's house (so long as that family isn't there) "a holiday from adult life". In the more recent Double Vision (Faber, 2003) a character enjoys: "The mere fact that the house was not his gave him an Alice-in-Wonderland feeling. He seemed to be wandering around between the chair legs while items of furniture loomed above him, mysterious with withheld significance. They made him feel insubstantial, these rooms with their carefully selected antiques, the fruits of years of settled, successful endeavour, and yet the feeling was not entirely unpleasant. Like Goldilocks in the house of the three bears, he had a sense of danger and transgression."

I have to admit that my lack of action with the vaccuum cleaner - despite today's full timetable of dawn to dusk rain - makes me feel edgy too... What will my friend Julie say when she surveys her house after her holiday?

But yesterday there was sun and a chance to enjoy a day trip to the Cheddar Gorge which splits the Mendip Hills, Somerset. I'd never been, couldn't even imagine what it looked like, but the Gorge with it's dramatic views enhanced by old grass, sheer rock faces, wild scrub, colonising ash trees, real climbers,magical stories and "British Primitives" (aka goats) and soay sheep browsing is as good as a wonder of the world. Comparisons include the Grand Canyon and any drama cliff coastline - Italy's Amalfi coast say (except there's been no sea here for millions of years) or maybe some spot in Albania or Croatia.

Way back the gorge was home to a spectacular river, and inside the carbonifeous limestone are some amazing caves. We toured the Gough Cave with its frozen waterfall, rough scratched mammoth cave painting and at the very back the huge dome space nicknamed St Paul's. Cooper Cave has lured in TV's Time Team, been home to a shepherd and his family in Victorian times, and no doubt was the ultimate in designer living for people in the Mesolithic Age.

Cheddar Man is a must see. It's Britain's oldest complete skeleton (approx 9,000 years old) and was used in 1997 to make DNA tests that show there's still a descendant of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer living in Cheddar today - a history teacher called Adrian Targett. Amazing thought, and one which the small Museum of Prehistory spends time encouraging visitors to think about how much this disproves the notion of God. In case that's not enough brain meat there are also three skulls on display providing absolute evidence of cannibalism in the Cheddar cave network.

The downside is Cheddar Gorge, once cheese, mills and shepherds, is a real tourist trap. Every village building sells tacka-tack rubbish, postcards and snacks probably no different from Wookey Hole nearby (except at Cheddar Gorge dogs are truly welcome, thank you!). It's also expensive - a family ticket is around £40 plus a car parking fee. You can of course just take a walk to Jacob's Ladder which is up the Gorge (on the National Trust land) for free, but paying lets you see the caves, and that's what we wanted to do in our borrowed Fiat car.

I was impressed by the amount of people employed by the Cheddar Caves & Gorge company (no doubt for low wages, but the staff were invariably friendly, mixed ages and seemed to take some pride in working in such a honeypot). I also really enjoyed the onus on nature conservation at the site - we saw a buzzard and heard tales of 10 different types of bat, breeding peregrine falcons and a family of nationally endangered water voles near the mill pond.

It is also the true home of the Cheddar pink (a flower) and of course Britain's best-loved, and best-known cheese. We bought a slice of some cave-matured "authentic" cheddar from the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company (£22.95 per kg). Irresistible after seeing it stored under lock and key during our tour of Gough's cave.

You don't just have to look and learn, or guzzle on the various cafe menu options as there's a place you can learn to cave, climb and abseil - and perhaps do something a bit dirtier and more challenging than just learn - at the Rock Sport centre.

After a summer spent feeling rural, I felt Cheddar Caves & Gorge had hit a potent mix that suits every sort of tourist, and perhaps even locals too. The next plan is to fit a ski lift from top to the bottom of the gorge, an ambitious £2 million idea, that if carried out would certainly gives British staycationers a taste of the Alps. I can't wait to go back...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Smell the petrol

One family's thoughts on how to travel the world without leaving home, much. This post is by Nicola

I'm ashamed of myself really: in just two weeks of holidaying I've managed to drive nearly 1,000 miles. Most of this was local trips in Yorkshire, although the big mileage came from an up and down of the A1, plus a return journey from Carlisle to Wast Water. Although the family also clocked up the miles on the gear-changing, brake-waring crossing of Hard Knott pass between Boot and Ambleside.

Because we need to drive so little, I usually stick to a membership car club scheme, Streetcar. But this time it was more convenient to rent the cars from Sixt.

As a result of this I've been into a couple of motorway service stations - better for clean loos than most train stations still - and nowadays also serving a good cup of coffee, but otherwise soleless places. Assuming it is not an April Fool (and we are months out as I am writing this in August) there are plans in the Cotswolds to build an apparently "green service station" with a grass roof, electric vehicle refuelling points, and a veg patch. The full story is in the Guardian here.

What struck me about the service stations on the A1 was they were an identical layout, and nothing to tell me where in the world I was. Apparently the kit-design is the way to make cost and building savings - you create a model that can be dumped anywhere you acquire the land, a bit like Lego. So if this so-called green service station was to go ahead it would make sense to build it just like all the others. Or to make a model that would be acceptable to all the other service station developers.

I wonder if there is still time to ask the question: do we need yet another service station? I'm guessing this is a no, even if you could pour unleaded petrol into your car while munching on a locally-sourced goat's cheese sarnie.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Oops that fell on my head

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell like to travel around Britain in a carbon lite way. On a recent round trip to Yorkshire we found a good way to break the monotony of motorway driving near Mrs Thatcher's old constituency of Grantham. This post is by Nicola, see more about energy efficiency in her most recent book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children at http://www.homemadekids.co.uk/.

When bird poo lands on your head - observers laugh. The recipient feels slightly sick, then remembers that this sort of accident foretells a good luck day. When the young Isaac Newton sat under a tree and an apple fell on his head (or on to the book he couldn't take his nose out of being a bookish sort stuck at home to escape the plague in Cambridge) he began to work up a theory about the first, second and third laws of motion. Everyone knows these laws now. And who doesn't get gravity?

Fast lane
Driving up the A1 from London to Scotch Corner - this week I needed to drive 772 miles which seems a staggering distance (although it was only just over one tank of diesel, ie approx £65 of the rented VW Golf) - so I was desperate for a fun stop-off rather than a "services". The answer is at Grantham, the fascinating National Trust-run Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire which was the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton. At the science centre Lola, 12, and I used a prism to see how red, green and yellow light beams become "white", we learnt that Isacc's dad (who died before he was born) couldn't write and how the boy Isaac built models of windmills and then powered them by mice! We also picniced near the famous apple tree (see pic above).

"His discoveries included revolutionary ideas in mathematics, optics, gravity and formulating the laws of motion. His theories and scientific methods underpin the world of science today."
NT guide book

Six fingers seen by people in a Sixt rent-a-car
Fascinatingly the house is also filled with anti-witch grafitti scratched into the plaster. It is at the front door, in the hallway, in the bedroom even. How strange that the man who did so much to make science accessible grew up in such a super-superstitious household. Or maybe that explains it? Lola and I drove off powered up by ideas that kept a conversation about how to make our own pet mice produce some renewable energy last many, many miles past York. And the fallen apple we took as a conversation piece is now tucked into my compost pile.