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.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

New Holland in Essex (without lions)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a tour of Essex taking in Holland and Australia.  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).   

Essex: it's got spray tans, hair extensions, wicked heels, new gleaming teeth and can boast at being the county with the (arguably) longest coast line in the UK. Pete writes endlessly about Essex (expect a new book in October) so sometimes the family is caught up in his Joy of Essex research. Turns out this stop off is roughly where the non-lion of 2012 August bank holiday was hanging out... see here

If you go to that mostly North Sea coast line you can be in all sorts of worlds and enjoy:

  • Wildlife - from seals to wading birds - see here
  • End of the pier attractions at Southend, Walton on the Naze and Clacton
  • 1950s beach fun on the greensward at Frinton
  • The best fish grazing (winkles! cockles! fish and chips!) at Leigh on Sea's pubs and fish stalls
  • Oil refineries at Canvey Island
  • Tasty English wine at Mersea Island

Pete, Nell, the dog and I took a little trip to flat Dutch landscapes at New Holland - midway between Clacton and Frinton (reach via a train to the seaside towns and then take bus 7, 7x or 8 on to alight at the Roaring Donkey pub). Once in New Holland it's really not got a cliche Dutch feel at all. Instead the bungalows, neat gardens, low walls and big vehicles parked in most drives give a strong sense of being in olde worlde Australia, a Perth suburb like Scarborough.

If you're in Australia then you'll expect really good food. So get back on the bus and head to Frinton where the Mouse and Hat Restaurant (pic of menu sourcing board above) offers stunning deli treats. Stunning for the UK that is. It's midway down Connaught Avenue (once known as Essex's Bond Street, but now rather more like a Country Living magazine fantasy of bookshops, galleries, material stores, ice cream parlour and a friendly green grocer).

Friday, 10 August 2012

Treehouses, poison plants and broomstick lessons

The historic town of Alnwick is a fantastic place to visit. Despite being a small town on the rural coastline of Northumberland, it is home to one of the most recognisable tourist attractions in the UK: Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick Castle
The castle was chosen to play the role of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter saga, and has since become a focal point for fans of the films from all over the world. The castle has all sorts of Harry Potter-related attractions and activities for fans of the films such as broomstick training, and is a great day out for all the family.

One of the largest inhabited castles in the UK, Alnwick is owned by the Percy family, who have spent significantly in order to restore the castle to former glories: take a walk around its stately halls and stunning grounds to fully experience the majesty of the castle.
Alnwick Gardens
A short walk from the castle, Alnwick Gardens are owned by the Duchess of Northumberland and since 1995 her efforts to transform the gardens have resulted in a beautiful area where surprise and imagination are present in each garden. Look out for the incredible Grand Cascade – the dramatic focal point of the garden which will draw you in as soon as you enter the garden.

The gardens have been designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, celebrated Belgian designers of global renown. They have brought the most beautiful trees and flowers in the world together to create fantastic displays; most recently the addition of 300 Tai Haku cherry trees that are native to Japan and China have added a touch of elegance.

The Poison Garden is a huge attraction too. Filled with plants that can quite literally kill, it’s fascinating to learn about them and the gruesome effects they can have on the human body.

Alnwick Gardens are also home to the Treehouse Restaurant – literally a restaurant up in the trees! The food here is absolutely delicious, although it can be a little pricey, but children are well catered for and you really will not be disappointed.

The town of Alnwick also has plenty of places to eat, whether you feel like some traditional fish and chips or if a spot of tea and cake is more your preference, there are lots of affordable and delicious places to grab a bite to eat. Staying in holiday cottages in Northumberland is a good idea, as there are plenty of cosy places to stay in and around Alnwick that are a little bit nicer than an ordinary B&B.

Steeped in history and a truly beautiful little town, Alnwick is definitely worth a visit thanks to the sheer variety of things do see and do in such a small place.

Around Britain No Plane verdict - we visited with the kids in 2007 and it was wonderful. The link above gives you a place to stay.

Over to you
Where's your favourite British town for a wide ranges of things to do and see?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ride like they do in Mongolia

Nell bareback on George in Wales.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is about how taking a ride on a horse just might make you feel as if you are away from it all in Mongolia. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my eco-friendly books and blogs).   

I was lucky to be allowed huge freedoms as a child - from the age of eight I was riding a 13hh pony around the Hertfordshire lanes and fields. Telstar had almost no brakes and turned into a bolting wreck if we met a tractor. Two ponies later my bigger 15hh mare, Cassiopeia, was traumatised by the sight and sound of pigs. Unfortunately there was a pig farm on two of my favourite routes. If we were attempting to walk on hind legs past the pigs and a car came too fast there could have been a disaster. Indeed riding today on roads is far riskier - people drive faster, in bigger vehicles and there are so many more people driving. Strangely I don't remember ever being frightened by my horses' behaviour - but people drove slower then so I was at less risk of being damaged too.

As a result of the hours I clocked up with horses I took a professional riding qualification (BHSAI) back in 1982 (just before going to university). But nowadays to escort a hack at a BHS approved riding centre - through woodland with no roads at all - I need to upgrade my knowledge with two more exams (one a tourist leisure qualification, the other on Riding and Road Safety.

It's good that riding safety is taken so seriously, but an absolute pain to have to don hard hat, tweed jacket and jods for another exam in order to be allowed out riding in the woods again.  Meanwhile, when I go to stay with friends who have ponies, sometimes I get to take my children out riding on very quiet roads and tracks (see pic of Nell bareback above borrowing Hannah's pony, George).

Me in front, Lola and Nell in Wales. Possibly like Mongolia?
It's not like that in Mongolia. There people are still brought up with horses and have what appears to be the most marvellous roaming life across the huge steepes as they search for fresh summer grazing. My friend Anna has recently been visiting and says that the closest equivalent would be to go on a riding tour across the mountains of Wales. I've had a taste of this in Powys and it really is lovely - high up, stunning long views and often across wild country. Anna recommends Equitours as the place to hire a horse and go for a long, fast, Mongolian-style trek. Actually you could fix up your own style trek across Wales as the British Horse Society has worked hard opening bridleways, see info here on riding holidays.

If actually riding a horse is too much - try the great book by Rupert Isaacson, called Horse Boy (it's a film too) which charts his family's journey to Mongolia to try and help his severely autistic son through contact with horses and life in the vast outdoor safe space of the steppes. It's a really good read.

Over to you
Where in the UK is a lovely place to go for a ride and feel as if you are far from overcrowded Britain? Or what else could I do to get a feel of Mongolian life - besides take a mini-break in a yurt (though that sounds fab)?