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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, 29 December 2011

Great British resolutions (via Jamie Oliver's pub)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how a trip to Jamie Oliver's dad's pub (the Cricketers) inspired 2012 thoughts about travel. This post is by Nicola Baird  

I love Jamie Oliver - at every stage of his career. As a cheeky chappy. As a dad. As the boss of a posh restaurant near Old Street (Fifteen) that was ridiculously hard to find. I think his 30 minutes meal guide is ace. And his new British book looks fab too, although I've only flicked through it.

Ministry of Food memories
But the thing I remember best about him, is the apparent sense of total, agonised, furious failure he felt when he couldn't get Britain's school children eating better. The tabloids understood the power of a shot of mums sneaking burgers into their children's school after junk food had been banned. That picture (burger gate?) was designed to not just undermine Jamie's healthy school meals, but his reputation.

This thought has been helping me dream up a new year's resolution. 

Or at least Jamie's bounce has helped - he picked himself up, sorted it out, had a go in the US, and then got back to his real talent - talking up a good cooking show. An d this happened thanks to a detour to the Cricketers pub at Clavering (run by his mum and dad) on the Herts/Essex border. It's a very posh place. Or put it another way Jamie didn't learn his Mockney accent in this bit of north west Essex. And sadly we didn't get to eat there because dogs aren't allowed inside - so it was bags of crisp (posh crisps) out in the cold... (see pix above of Pete, Lola, Nell and Vulcan; my mum wouldn't come as she said she had a bad vibe about the trip!). It's the ideal spot to serve gourmet pub grub and put the world to rights.

Bit of a twizzle
Have you heard of Dave Hampton - the ambitious carbon coach, who hopes to do for fossil fuel use what Jamie did to turkey twizzlers - who was interviewed in the Ecologist mag recently about how greens shouldn't be so up tight. We're not responsible for everyone (and especially their non-green behaviour) he says. The interview is here. But below is a quote that resonates... (Jamie, you can take note too).

What was the highlight of your year (2011)?I think the highlight is me fully getting, for the first time maybe, that I am not responsible for anyone else's life or behaviour -and that I am only responsible for my own! Gosh, it feels good saying that, I have been living in this fantasy world where I believed it was up to me to save the planet and if that is a mental illness it is quite a common one - we all know of campaigners who seem to believe that everyone else is wrong and they are the only ones who are right! But if we go around clearing up our own mess and being positive about our own lifestyle, other people will start copying us and picking up their own carbon ‘litter' too.
Dave Hampton/carbon coach, interviewed in Dec 2011 Ecologist

Looking back at 2011 is a terrible time for those of us at Mayhem Corner to look back on our carbon use. We did after all travel to the other side of the world by plane - although at least we stayed there for three months. Sorry nonetheless.

In addition, somewhere along the way this year I'd forgotten about the joys I get from trying to live simply (or as Pete puts it simply live) with an eye/ear and eco-kerchung on the planet.

When all around are telling you that austerity is bad, it's easy to forget (assuming you have enough to cover mortgage, food and other essentials) that you don't need to be doing spending overdrive in order to have a darn fine, sustainalbe life.  And that's where Jamie Oliver, comes back in. He's a bloke with a dream and vast ambition to get Britain eating better using every type of media (have you seen his apps or his mags?) who has discovered that his success is better if he cheer leads rather than criticises. I want to be like that too.

And if all this hurts your head the Cricketers has a splendid solution. Its low timber beams are bound in padded leather to prevent accidents. So here's to not ducking the obvious, especially if you are already living the green dream. Good luck and happy days for 2012.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Saffron Walden: love the dark ages

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to immerse yourself in British history, just by a trip to an Essex market town. This post is by Nicola Baird 

800 years ago history had a story-telling blip. There was no one around who wanted to write stuff down or, if they did, they clearly put their books in the wrong storage depot. So when you get to a town like Saffron Walden, in Essex, which started life as a small settlement (possibly) in pre-Roman times and then progressed to being a market town (from 1141) to a rather fab place to visit where the houses are painted in shades of ice-cream flavours and the post-xmas rubbish gets put out in Waitrose bags. I bet Tunbridge Wells gives off the same sort of comfort zone...

But Saffron Walden has a secret, and it's not the Devil's Fingernails in the pic. It's a site once seen that leaves you asking far more questions about all of our ancestors.  Here's why.

Saffron Walden has 15,000 people. It's not far from Cambridge. It's always been on my list as a must-see destination and yet it's taken years for me to get there probably because its train station was shut in 1964. Nearest stations are Audley End and Newport, plus a bus or taxi ride. 

Once you've got there though it's easy to stroll around. The tourist information centre has a free walking guide which leads you around the biggest church in Essex, past Oliver Cromwell's HQ (yet another), over RAB Butler's grave (remember him - born in India, a consumate politician perhaps, "the best PM we never had" and in 1944 gave us a great education system), past a plethora of pretty houses with beams and plaster, mouldings and stories (see photos).  

It can take in the Old English Gentleman, a CAMRA pub, that allows dogs in one bar, and children in the other. Sensible: albeit a problem for a family like mine with children and a dog...

Sodding mystery
It can include a Norman castle with fabulous ruins, and an award-winning museum - purpose built for the job which has a famous ethnography collection including Innuit (eskimo in the display and Nell's 21st century version in the photo) kit and plenty of memories for Oceania fans (such as my family). Oh yes, and the guided walk takes in a skateboard park, and a restored Victorian garden, known as Bridge End. Through it I found out the town had been a melting pot for Quakers, philanthropists and politics. Learnt that it's a stone's throw from lovely Audley End and the miniature railway. But bizarrely nothing much seems to be known about England's oldest turf maze, created 800 years ago and  still in amazing shape on the far side of The Common.   

Nell, 10, lay down in the centre of the maze. Lola, 13, stalked around the turf paths trying to figure out the pattern muttering "I've got it!". Pete was puzzled why it wasn't fenced off or made more of a feature. Maybe it's obvious: the turf love-knots (if that's what they are) have to compete with saffron (the yellow powder on the stamens of the crocus) that gave Saffron Walden it's name, so maybe it is clear why this particular British curiosity plays second fiddle to a flower.

Over to you
Is there a place you know that undersells something you think is amazing? If so, do let me know - or tell me what you love about Saffron Walden so I can make sure I treat myself to a second trip.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Portugese pony power

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to look at a horse and find yourself longing for all things Portugal... This post is by Nicola Baird 

Do you like horses? If so, you may already know about the Olympia Horse Show, held just before Christmas in London. It's a massive show jumping contest (prizes minimum of 10K Euros for each of the two contests we saw & pic of the grey is Depardieu ridden by Guy Williams, a GBR rider who won the Renault Christmas Mawsters on 17 December 2011) with an endless display of other crowd-pleasing horsy activities.

I've started to make it a pre-Christmas treat for my daughters and we usually hook up with an aunt or two (pic shows Kaz, Lola and Nell). Normally I come home impressed by the ways the top riders have changed. Twenty to thirty years ago, training was an extra cigarette and another pint. Now it is pilates, proper low GI diets, and lots of emphasis on the rider being supple and fit. The result is obvious: World Cup horses - and their riders - can jump higher.

But this year I came home longing for a Lusitano. This amazing Portugese breed - often grey - has a rocking horse canter and is known for being agile and calm. There have even been debates in the horse world about whether it is possible to fall off a Lusitano (duh! of course you can).

The Lusitano were originally used for war and bull fighting - and at Olympia we got to see eight blokes show off their horses' incredibly calm athleticism with the aid of long scary rods and war-like music. The atmosphere was lightened by two women riders, wearing long trousers that were cut as wide as skirts (in the Edwardian manner) demonstrating that these horses work as well for either sex. That said the Portugese men's bond with their horses was supposed to be so close, and so enviable, that this is where the birth of the idea that centaurs existed. It's all fascinating stuff on wikipedia.

Next up was the Lorenzo, the Flying Frenchman - who swapped his grey Carmague ponies for the Lusitano so he can give a really death-defying display of horsemanship. He stands one leg on his left pony, the other on the right pony with six or eight in front of him, controlled entirely by long reining. He can turn, weave between poles and even jump, see this video (experts can note the switch in breed perhaps?). Quite amazing to watch - and again only possibly because of the Lusitano. Oh, how I want one, and I'm sure a little one, say 15.2hh, would fit into our garden if I converted the chicken shed into a stable.

As must be obvious Olympia brings out the child in me, the one that never actually said "Daddy I want a new pony now!"

Monday, 12 December 2011

The joy of Essex

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Take a mini break to Colchester for culture, oysters, history and views that are often Italinate (even in a damp mid-winter). This post is by Nicola Baird 

Colchester is a market town with a big history. As Camulodunum (translation - fortress of Camulos [a Celtic god of war]) it was once the capital of Britain. It was a vast Roman colony and even now the materials used in the Norman castle give you the impression you are mid Mediterranean, maybe Florence with the warm terracotta tiles on the castle's narrow bricked towers and the strange white elephant watertower, known locally as Jumbo. It's the history that is exciting though: it was viciously destroyed by Boudica and her Celtic allies (who also destroyed London and St Albans); fought over in the Civil War, and has more traditions about oysters than you can serve up with Lee and Perrins....

Despite all these stories it’s not a traditional place to head for a wedding anniversary weekend. Strange because it surely compares with Lille or Bath or Winchester. Indeed the staggered reaction from a friend who used to live there, and my aunt who is based in Essex - but does her best to avoid Colchester - suggested I might regret letting Pete pick the venue. But that's the point of Aroundbritainnoplane, getting to know the UK better.

Turns out that Colchester offers an astonishing history trail (and thanks to the choice of B&B and restaurant Pete and I had a lot of fun too). The Norman castle is the biggest in Britain - because it was built on foundations made by the Romans. The foundations are 3,000 years old, and when the Normans arrived these were already 1,000 years old. When I think about the subsidence in the two Victorian homes I’ve lived in this seems puzzlingly brilliant engineering.

We took a taxi from the station to Trinity Street where we were staying in a house once owned by John Wilbye, the man who invented madrigals in the late 16th century. I always ask taxi drivers the three best things about the place where they work, often with interesting results. The woman we’d picked was an utter down.”There’s nothing good here. It’s just cold. There’s shopping, but I don’t like that, except in Williams & Griffin (a department store run by Fenwick).” When pushed she admitted there were some pubs, but these were occupied by squaddies and students so we wouldn’t want to go there… Well we did, the Purple Dog was fine, and most pubs seem to offer real ale.

Within 100 metres of exiting the taxi – she couldn’t drive to the front door because of the excellent pedestrianised shopping lanes (sort of like Brighton) off the High Street a lady in Tudor garments had invited us to watch a Tudor dance being performed in the CO1 community centre run by a charity that finds things for teenagers to do. Irresistible, and though Tudor dances are reasonably staid, it was fun watching a performance of Ding Dong Merrily on High (originally a dance) and the anachronistic doubletake of spotting a Tudor dancer sit out with mobile and a mug of latte. Could spots like this have inspired Damon Albarn from Blur?

Top 5 highlights of Colchester (other than the zoo)
  1. Colchester Castle – stunning Roman collection which is labelled for maximum enjoyment for anyone who knows Essex or interested in Boudica. It costs £6 to enter but offers at least an hour of displays. You can also book a £2.50 tour of the Roman foundations of the Temple of Claudius which Boudica destroyed (along with 20,000 people) and go on to the castle ramparts for a 360 degree view across today's town. 
  2. FREE A walk that takes in the old Roman wall by the Hole in the Wall pub and a vast red-brick retired Victorian water tower known as Jumbo. Then head the other way and find the Old Seige House which looks Tudor but has many red painted bullet marks on its inside and outside walls – marks from the conflict between Cromwell’s troops and the Royalists. Finish off with a patrol of the incredible new arts centre, Firstsite. In fact Firstsite might be a reason to go to Colchester - it's as good as The Baltic up in Newcastle upon Tyne.
  3. There are some nice parks, including the castle gardens which also has the FREE toy museum beside it, all a few strides from the shopping streets. Look carefully between and in stores and you’ll see Roman memories everywhere. We ate a good dinner (with frighteningly speedy service) at the Lemon Tree which boasts a massive Roman wall between the dining rooms.
  4. A place to get curious about: allegedly Humpty Dumpty was a canon parked at St Mary in the Wall during the Civil War conflict (find it near the Mercury theatre). And there's the Dutch Quarter where in 1806 Jane Taylor is claimed to have dreamt up Twinkle Twinkle Little Star... and it's old name, Camulodunum may have been the basis for the nursery rhyme Old King Cole. As for the TOWIE craze back in Brentwood (and the nation's sitting rooms), well I could see no evidence other than a canvas tote in a super tacky shop that boasted "I've been vajazzled".
  5. Pick the right Sunday in December (11 Dec 2011) and then you can enjoy the Christmas market which has the high street closed to traffic. 

More info about things to do in Colchester here. More info about Colchester at wikipedia here (including references in two Dr Who episodes, Moll Flanders and 1984!)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Lisbon 1 Durban 0

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here is a short news report on which gets more news coverage: the ministers meeting at Durban (on climate) or squabbling over the Lisbon Treaty (money). This post is by Nicola Baird 

I've been a poor sleeper for years, ever since I had children really. So this morning about 6am - after finishing the novel I was reading and messing on Facebook - I started looking on the web for info about the COP17 talks at Durban. These are important climate talks, not unlike the ones that hogged the world's attention when they were in Copenhagen. There is so little to find, although I did uncover a shocking post from Reuters about how the failure of these talks looks set to drown island states, with first on the list being Tokelau. In contrast the meltdown of the Eurozone (thanks again Cameron for messing things up) had headline after headline. 

In a contest of Durban v Lisbon, the latter is clearly the outright winner. Money drives news agenda a zillion times over attempts to save the world.

And yet there is some good news around. For instance I found this news item below on the ecogeek website. It's from the LA Times. I think it is good news that investments in renewable energy topped fossil fuels last year - although as the UK isn't exactly doing this, who on earth is? There's another glitch: the enormous sum of $157 billion was also invested in new natural gas, oil and coal plants - the fossil fuels that are causing climate change... 

Really you couldn't make this skewed understanding up - as I read in Rosamund Urwin's Evening Standard column yesterday we'd rather see our great grandchildren swim to school than pay just a tad more tax to try and tackle the problems of climate change now, when we actually still might be able to do something.
Investments in Renewable Energy Topped Fossil Fuels Last YearWritten by Megan Treacy on 29/11/11 For the first time, investments in renewable energy projects surpassed those in fossil fuel power plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Last year, $187 billion was invested in renewable energy installations, while $157 billion was invested in new natural gas, oil and coal plants. The increase in investments in the sector, even while in a down economy, has led to price drops in equipment and renewable energy power, making solar and wind power far more competitive with coal power. Renewable energy subsidies deserve a lot of credit for the spending increase:  about $66 billion in subsidies were handed out last year. It's a great bit of news as another round of global talks on the climate crisis is likely heading nowhere as we speak. via LA Times