A-Z activities

A-Z countries

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.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Doing battle in St Albans

Top: 50 people on a Wars of the Roses tour in St Albans; At the White Hart Tap;  UK's oldest pub Ye Olde Fighting Cocks - the Lancastrians were camped at the very top of this hill on the other side of the Abbey; Don't forget the Romans' influence; Nell by a Wars of the Roses sign, which was mistakenly put up on the wrong side of the road.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a tour of St Albans, and finds quarrelsome ghosts refighting the Wars of the Roses. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).    

It's St Albans and Saturday shoppers are battle weary from the unseasonal May heat - dodging the crowds to find a shop stocking an outfit that fits or a welcoming inn. In queues, dressing rooms, near shade there's someone on the mobile doing battle. How can you tell that on this day five hundred plus years ago history was being made? Well the road layout is pretty much the same...

The York (white rose) and King Henry VI's Lancaster (red rose) troops meet up at St Albans about 7am. Both have had a long march. York is allegedly ever so contrite, trying to get a guarantee that the man who wants to be king, Richard, Duke of York, isn't about to be put to death. But King Henry's (or his advisers) are not in a trusting mood. They don't accept any grovelling note, but rather foolishly delay putting on their armour... So when York gives up suing for peace and decides to fight it out the Lancastrians aren't battle fit and are polished off by archers.

Those arrows came at 100mph, with armor on it was an arrow in the eye that was the danger. Without the full protective metal kit you hadn't a hope - especially if there were enough arrows "to block out the sun" shot at you by the York's force. I'm pretty certain this super successful part of the battle was organised by Warwick (who had to break through the walls of a pub, now a building society) to join the fight. Warwick goes on to have extreme influence in the Wars of the Roses - except crucially who his boss Richard's son Edward marries.

Back on 22 May, 1455 it was a straight York-Lancaster fight. The residents scatter. The villagers coming into town for market day get windy about St Albans (a fear rightly borne out as some years later in 1461 at the 2nd battle of St Albans, also during the Wars of the Roses), which seems a place where trouble is always brewing. For the next 400 years those villagers market in Harpenden, in the opposite direction...

Winner takes all, almost
The first battle of the Wars of the Roses is over in less than two hours with York the winner. As it turns out the Duke of York doesn't ever get crowned, but two of his sons do - Edward VI and his brother Richard III. His great grandaughter goes on to marry Richard III's successor, Henry VII and thus becomes the mother of Henry VIII.

And we know all about it because the abbot at St Albans wrote an eye-witness account of the battle. An early blogger?

History's so simple when you walk around the streets with a guide like Peter Burley (ex York) who knows exactly what happened - where the Duke of York's horse was killed (just by the traffic lights), which pubs and shops the two sides made their HQs (The White Horse Tap for York and Boots the Chemist for Lancaster).

As I'm an alumnus of York it seemed like a fun idea to join this tour for former York or Lancaster uni students, not least because Pete (my husband) graduated from Lancaster so we can do our own Wars of the Roses re-enactment if we want.... Our 11 and 13 year old daughters came too and to their suprise enjoyed seeing the narrow streets where you could only fit three abreast in a fight. Everyone else had to queue up behind. We were soon imagining the misery of the Duke of Somerset (a king's man) who'd avoided castles for years thanks to a prophecy in his youth from a sorcerer, Roger Bolingbroke who said (paraphrased!) "Stay away from castles," but then discovered he'd taken sanctuary in The Castle Inn. Once discovered he was killed by York men.

Ice cream top ups and a punnet of the first strawberries of the year, off a market stall near the clock tower, kept the kids going when horrible histories and stupid deaths can't.

Good job we had such an expert guide as there is still no signage, or even a battlefield tour despite this fascinating battle taking place in the centre of St Albans in streets we know and use today. But you can self-guide yourself using the book, The Battles of St Albans, co-authored by Peter Burley, who is also national co-ordinator for the UK Battlefields Trust.

Verdict: great day out
Where did you go: St Albans, Herts - for a histronaut walk to the Wars of the Roses 1455.
USP - Britain's oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks - building been there since 14th century, and a pub been on the site, just by the river, since the 8th century.
Too busy to mention: the Romans! St Albans is also all about the hypercourse, Verulamium etc.
Learn anything else: Yes Shakespeare, he really gave the York side a bad time in his history plays. For instance it's unlikely that the three year old infant Richard (who would become "evil" Richard III who we know as the one who manages to kill his cousins, the two little princes in the tower) would have been at the battle, let alone killed the full-grown castle-fearing Duke of Somerset.

Over to you
Where's your favourite place to go to get a sense of history?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Travel tips from travel writers

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post has a look at the way travel has changed - from adventure to grim necessity. Seems like a shame to all of us who still feel that travelling is a joy, and it is often better to travel than to arrive. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

The photo above is of a gorgeous certificate my Great Aunt Aline was given for gamely taking a flight on 1 August 1949 across the Atlantic Ocean from London to Boston. It's an "overseas flight certificate" from the "captain of the flagship, Scotland" which states, "may all your journeys be pleasant ones". Ahh. Nowadays getting on a plane is so often the worst part of the journey - not just for you, but for the planet. So how did well-known travellers face up to the burden of getting there?

What the Dickens
I'd have loved to talk to Charles Dickens about his travel snaps.
If he wasn't listening intently, ready to nick your lifestory then he was getting slightly over excited about how to get around, say taking the train to France (and remember he had no Channel Tunnel so had to use a boat too). Later, in 1865, he survived a train crash coming back from France close to Stapleton, Kent - it'd be interesting to find out what mental revisions he made to train travel then, although he comes close in this letter.
"There is a dreamy pleasure in this flying. I wonder where it was, and when it was, that we exploded, blew into space somehow a parliamentary train, with a crowd of heads and faces looking at us out of cages, and some hats waving... What do I care? 
Bang! We have let another station off, and fly away regardless. Everything is flying. The hop gardens turn gracefully towards me, presenting regular avenues of hops in rapid flight, then whirl away. So do the pools and rushes, haystacks, sheep, clover in full bloom delicious to the sight and smell, corn sheaves, cherry orchards, apple orchards, reapers, gleaners, hedges, gates, fields that taper off into little angular corners, cottages, gardens, now and then a church. Bang. Bang! A double-barrelled station! Now a wood, now a bridge, now a landscape, now a cutting, now a - Bang! a single-barrelled station - there was a cricket match somewhere with two white tents and then four flying cows, then turnips - now the wires of the electric telegraph are all alive, and spin, and blur their eges and go up and down, and make the intervals between each other most irregular, contracting and expanding in the strangest manner."
Charles Dickens on Travel (Hesperus Press, edited essays, 2009 from The Flight, 1851, p55)
What a contrast to George Orwell.

"So long as a machine is there, one is always obliged to use it. No one draws water from the well when he can turn on the tap. One sees a good illustration of this in the matter of travel. Everyone who has travelled by primitive methods in an undeveloped country knows that the difference between that kind of travel and modern travel in trains, cars, etc, is the difference between life and death. The nomad who walks or rides, with his luggage stowed on a came or an ox-cart, may suffer every kind of discomfort, but at least he is living while his is travelling; whereas for the passenger in an express train or a luxury liner his journey is an interregnum, a kind of temporary death. And yet so long as the railways exist, one has got to travel by train - or by cr or areoplane. When i want to go up to London why do I not pack my luggage on to a mule and set out on foot, making a two days of it? Becasue, with teh Green Line buses whizzing past me every ten minutes, such a journey would be intolerably irksome. In order that one may enjoy primitive methods of travel, it is necessary that no other method should be available."
The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin, original edition 1937) p175

Backseat driving
See how jaded poor Bill Bryson, writing in the early 1990s, had got.

"If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, "Well now that's a bit of a tall order," and then they'll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it's better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet. Within minutes the conversation will plunge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreginer, swivelling your head in quiet wonderment."
Notes from Small Island (Black Swan, 1999 this edition specially for World Book Night p31)

Over to you
In contrast I tend to love where I go - else why leave? Let me know where you hope to go this year without using a plane.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Blogs that deserve awards

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is a little different, all about great blogs. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

Rosettes, certificates, prizes - I love them! But of course they are such a rare part of life, so it was a real pleasure to be given a Liebster Blog award from Karin at Notes on a Garden who said: "Nicola [gets a Liebster] for her interesting view of life without a car, in Around Britain without a Plane, which often gives me food for thought. Thank you Karin, a definite English sparkling wine moment.

Acceptance of the award is conditional on the following: 
  1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  2. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them.
  3. Choose five other blogs to award with less than 200 followers and leave a comment for them.
I'd like to present a Liebster Blog award (which I think is the German for favourite) to the very deserving:

http://myzerowaste.com - all about cutting waste from a real genius. Blackened bananas go into crumble, all fruit and veg is bought naked (ie, without wrapping on) and she has loads of genius ideas. She probably also has more than 200 followers, but maybe not. Love her stuff.

http://loveoutdoorplay.net - constant guest posts all about giving children a lot more freedom. Essential blog fodder.

http://greenmummy.blogspot.co.uk - full of info and joy, written by my former colleague Rita.

http://londinimum.wordpress.com/ - written by a journalist with two young children.

http://sophieminchilliinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/ - fantastic photos, plus an interesting take on where and what to eat by one of my former students who I have to forgive for her carbon-heavy travel as it allows me and other readers virtual travel. Go Sophie!

Over to you
Obviously you can't give an award to yourself, but if you are interested in thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children (or yourself for that matter), or fancy the current SUPER SIMPLE COMPETITION FOR A FAIR TRADE TOY PRIZE, then do have a look at http://homemadekids.wordpress.com

Monday, 14 May 2012

Greek flame, UK route

It's all Greek to me.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to join in the Greek-lit Olympic flame on its journey around the UK.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

The 2012 Olympic flame was lit in Greece  - the original home of the games - using sun rays as they met a parabolic mirror on 10 May. Sounds like a super efficient way of creating fire to me.  And now  - whatever the weather throws at it - the flame is on its journey travelling up the UK from Cornwall. The route aims to take the Olympic flame no further than 10 miles from 95 per cent of the population. Quite an amazing piece of planning!

Look here to see where it passes you, and when.

As a little tribute to the moment the Olympic flame was lit I popped into a Greek bakery in Enfield (just by Oakwood tube) and bought a sesame seed loaf plus a box of olive paste-filled pastries as a gift for friends (see pic above). For £4 I got nearly 20 little snacks (rather different finances are used at the French bakery Paul where you generally spend an arm and a leg on daily bread). Yum.

Over to you
Will you see the Olympic flame pass? And have you ever used a parabolic mirror?
For anyone interested in trying out a parabolic mirror for cooking, rather than just lighting a runner's torch, have a look at this video from the US. Or buy one for home cooking (assuming you are in the US) at http://www.greenpowerscience.com/SHOPARABLOICHOME.html

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Changing face of Bristol

Bristol's so changed since I last visited, that even my map is out of date. It's clean, easy to walk around and by the station and harbour it is filled with huge spaces that are fun to linger in and easy to reach by bike too.
Dead ringer for Sydney?
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to enjoy a fab festival and get that Sydney-feel, just by taking a trip to Bristol (ideally between 9-17 June).  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

Bristol hopes to copy Edinburgh festival's "must be there" status during its annual June biggreenweek. Running from 9-17 June, Bristol's Big Green Week 2012 boasts comedy, music, film, talks, poetry, art and family events. £8 seems to be the top price tickets and there are plenty of free events too.

"Bristol has a festival every week," explains my friend as we pass a large marquee being put up for the German Beer Festival. We're down at the harbourside - although still a long way from the sea - cycling around after a day at the typeface, and it's a lovely place to be. All that water, space and big venues make you think of the Australian lifestyle. On a warm day with blue skies you definitely could imagine yourself Sydney-side, maybe even Brisbane.

The point of the Big Green Week is that it inspires change. Wherever you are in the green spectrum this is the chance to get buzzed up by Dragons Den's Deborah Meaden, the amazing poet Matt Harvey (he calls himself a Wondermentalist on BBC Radio 4) plus old favourites such as Jonathon Porritt from Forum for the Future, Juliet Davenport from fab Good Energy, Tim Smit from the Eden Project and environmental lawyer Polly Higgins who is determined to sort out the UN.

Cash and conscience
Festivals may seem like a fun place to meet up with friends - but they can inject considerable sums into the economy, never mind spread ideas. The 2012 January Sydney festival is thought to have brought in A$56.8 million (more than £35 million!!!) to the New South Wales economy (13% up on last year).

It can be hard to make money from those greens who lack the super-consumer gene so I shall be looking carefully at how Bristol's Big Green Week balances its books. But if it was a success - not just drawing in lots of people, but getting people to be more inspired from a green perspective and adding a nice flash of cash to the city how impressive would that be? I reckon engineer Brunel (see pix above) who had a very up and down relationship to money, despite his impressively inventive and well-remembered career, would be well proud.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Take a Dickens pub crawl

A pub crawl to suit any visitor to London.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to walk in Charles Dickens footsteps.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

Not long ago Will Self (an infamous novelist, well-known Brompton/fold-up cyclist) wrote a fascinating piece about walking in towns, see here. Apparently 100 years ago 90 per cent of all Londoner's journeys less than six miles were walked. Even the school run. Nowadays we're all too time pressed to even consider doing this. But it's interesting to think how much it would change our lives (and physiques, and appetites) if we did. And the combination of walking and a good look-see at London is a great way to get to know the layers of history this vast city offers.

Charles Dickens is famous for walking around London - no doubt done to avoid his home, identify new characters and work out tricky plots. When we next have guests from overseas I look forward to taking them on this Charles Dickens pub crawl where the great man used to pop into to dry out, warm up or chat.

Where to go for your Dickens Pub Crawl
On our (three evening!) pub crawl (we had to trial it if we were going to offer proper great expectations...) a combination of the A-Z map, Pete, me Nicola, Matthew, Ann and Hannah went to:

The One Tun, Saffron Hill, EC1 (near Farringdon Road tube)
This is now a football pub and really rather hideous. But Charles Dickens may well have borrowed one of its regulars, a man called Ikey Solomons, to dream up Fagin from Oliver Twist.
Verdict: think of it as a warm up. Pubs will only get better.

The Bleeding Heart Tavern, Bleeding Heart yard, EC1
This is really a posh wine bar/restaurant but there's a lovely nook you can sit in and dream about how the cobbled yard behind the pub was the home of the Plomish family in Little Dorrit
Verdict: so close to The One Tun and Ye Olde Mitre that you might want to linger

Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, EC1 (just off Hatton Gardens)
This is ever-so lovely and though it seems small it has two back rooms, a front room and an upstairs. They serve a fab range of beers, plus serve traditional City pub fare (think Scotch eggs). Lots of oak panelled walls. Both Dr Johnson and Charles Dickens here - your pub quiz question is could they have done so on the same day?* (answer below)
Verdict: fab

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, EC4 (near St Pauls tube or Holborn tube)
Just as good as Ye Olde Mitre, but with many more rooms, each with a rather different character - the stand up and drink until sick; the eatery, the snugs. It was built in 1667 and creeks, in a good way. Some say it's the pub that features in A Tale of Two Cities when Sydney asks Charles Darnay to dine after his acquittal from the charge of high treason.
Verdict: definitely a good place to celebrate life.

Ye Olde Watling, Watling Street, EC1
Actually I didn't make this venue on the pub crawl, but it was allegedly built by Sir Christopher Wren as a hostel for the guys building St Pauls. Dickens loved this pub... plus it's got 10 different real ales on tap, and lovely old beams.
Verdict: one of the best

Ye Olde Wine Shades, 6 Martin Lane, EC4 (near Monument tube)
Slight problem, it's not a pub - it's a posh City wine bar but it is l-o-v-e-l-y. It's also possibly the oldest pub in London - although that title could be the Lamb & Flag in Fleet Street, or Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see above) or loads of others along by the Thames. What is known is that this pub survived the 1666 Great Fire of London. Serves terrible chips, but the oak walls, generous wine glasses, mixed nuts and snugs and settles (wooden benches with backs) make up for that small hiccup.
Verdict: great place to go early in the evening as it's busier at lunch times... and the Monument to the fire of London is only a short stroll away.

George & Vulture, 3 Castle Court, EC3
This is deep in the city and was shut on the Friday evening when I reached it (how strange is that?), but maybe it is a restaurant now.  It has been the HQ for the Pickwick Club - run by fans of Charles Dickens. Despite the history don't bother. Luckily if you are just going for a peep, the oldest coffee house in London happens to be down the same alleyway, Jamaica Wine House, and that at least now serves beer and wine to the City suits, and pub crawlers...
Verdict: forget it

I found all this info out on a downloadable pdf created by islington council.
PUB QUIZ ANSWER: * no of course not! Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Thinking Japanese

Shakespeare at the Globe in all the world's languages (well, some), and next door at the Tate an art show doing its best to help us spot what's an international language.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to enjoy a long wet weekend learning new languages.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

Japan - the home of cute and fluffy. Diminutive. Polite. Actually the polar opposite of Japan's most famous female artist - Yayoi Kusama. She was born in 1929, an immense length of time ago, in a town 130 miles away from Tokyo.

Now 83 years old, she's got a major exhibition at Tate Modern (rivalling Damien Hirst's naughty shock show of sharks, jewel-encrusted skulls and butterfly farming).

Kusama spent years living in the States - imagine that leap of faith after what her generation had lived through during World War 2. She seems to have fallen into pop art before the pop artists and is without fail going to impress you.

Nell's 10-year-old friend Anna went to see it and claimed the show was mostly about spots. I was quite surprised to find it's mostly about willies in the early 1960s, although spots definitely become the main focus as she grows older.

It's sad that she's spent so many years living in a Japanese hospital - but the spots keep multiplying, and her output is amazing, and very pricey to buy. Clearly that's the sign of fabulous health care.

See Kusama until 5 June 2012 at the Tate Modern.