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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.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Living history at Ironbridge

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of visiting the birthplace of the industrial revolution and wondering what it must have been like in its heyday... was Ironbridge the sort of hell some unregulated resource hotspots seem to be now - say when making mobile phones on Indonesia's Bangka island?  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

It's rare that I make a long car journey with my family, mostly because taking a train is far more comfortable. However in August we decided to drive from London for a fortnight in Wales so hired a car which would allow us to make a detour. For kids who don't use cars much a pitstop at a motorway service station can be a highlight, so what we needed was a place to stretch our legs.

Ironbridge was the obvious candidate for a cultural stop-off too. It's the birthplace of industrial history - a fact I kept sharing with my passengers as we turned in the direction of another brown tourist sign that led us to Ironbridge from the M54. 

To begin with the kids, dog and my partner all seemed underwhelmed by the prospect of visiting an iron bridge (this is a very literally named location but it was built in 1779 so should be forgiven for that!). 

However when my family saw that Ironbridge is set in a beautiful gorge the mood changed. There are 10 museums to visit, and most are open every day from 10am-5pm. Some are free although the family pass offers 12 months of visits and on our short stop-over we didn't need to pay for anything, other than the snacks we picked up. 

Best of all the area offers a real sense of Victorian working history - not just the bosses, but also the workers involved. This honest interpretation is clearly liked by visitors - recently Tripadvisor rated Ironbridge as a better place to visit that the Pyramids in Egypt. It's also rated one of the top UNESCO sites in the world (ie, in a beauty/historic battle against Macchu Pichu, Peru and the Great Wall of China). See UNESCO's info here.

What I liked after hours of motorway driving was the serenity... yet in it's hey day Ironbridge and the surrounding area was simply hell. This is partly explained by a journalist writing for The Daily Telegraph, see the link here:
The gorge contains a four-mile stretch of the River Severn, flowing south from the Welsh mountains to the Bristol Channel. There has been iron-making there for centuries: what put it on the map and – arguably – fuelled the industrial revolution was mass production. In 1709 a Bristol Quaker, Abraham Darby, began smelting with coke from the Shropshire coalfield instead of woodland charcoal. His Coalbrookdale Ironworks churned out the raw material that would underpin everything from railways to steam power. The gorge glowed with industry 24 hours a day like a vision of hell. Darby’s grandson built the elegant, single-span, cast-iron bridge itself in 1779.
It made us all think about how industry has been cleaned up - at least in most of the UK. Yet for some workers conditions remain life-threatening and environmentally destructive. For instance the business of mining for the materials needed to make smartphones devastates parts of the coast and farm land on the Indonesian island of Bangka. 
In the end we walked over the iron bridge and took the dog for a run along one of the many footpaths that follow old railway routes (it helps that the area is so well signposted, see pic above). We also sped around a tiny  museum (free) and then stocked up on pies and coffee. I could have stayed for several days, and indeed plan to return as there's a huge amount to explore at the Blists Hill Victorian Museums, Ironbridge Museums and Coalbrookdales Museums sites. 

Best of all it's a very car-free friendly location - with free park and ride well signposted.

Find out more at www.ironbridge.org.uk including the special evening events and Christmas weekends (16-17 November 2013).

For updates about Friends of the Earth's make it better campaign, see http://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/make_it_better_about_37804.html

Monday, 2 September 2013

Italy in Wales (via Portmeirion)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of pretending to be in Italy from an Italianate village in Wales....  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).


Portmeirion offers Italian views and
rabbits... (a Welsh reminder).

Oh how lovely Wales is when the weather is good. But even on a wet day Portmeirion - the extraordinary Italian village built by eccentric Clough Wiliams-Ellis makes you feel you might have been teleported an Italian seaside hillside. See here.

My mum and Nell consider
 different options for birthday
presents: would you want a
fountain or a lion statue?
What's so Italian about Portmeirion?
Well, it's got arches, frescoes, bell towers, strong colours, italian restaurants and cafes, public sculpture, seaviews, a (concrete) ship, and even those tall thin green fir trees that scream "Italy" (not literally!).

All that's missing is a load of skinny cats.

I love the way you can visit, picnic or play. There are lots of walks and if the tide is out lots of beach too. You can also stay at Portmeirion - there are 17 self-catering cottages, plus a hotel. Years ago my mum did this and said the visitors to the cottages were brought breakfast in a wheelbarrow...

Plus breakfast service...
Once at Portmeirion you can take home their lovely botanical china. Or you can get into the 1960s TV spirit by being a "prisoner". This is such a cult activity that there's now an annual Festival No 6. In 2013 it's from 13-15 September.

We also enjoyed surprises on walks around the grounds. Nell was thrilled by the money tree stump (above) and plans to make one at home (should we ever have a tree we chop down).

Even in the rain my mum was inspired to paint a quick sketch. There's definitely something fabulouso - excuse my Italian - about the place...