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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.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Thoughts on Jaffa, oranges and Paddington bear

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Here's a way to make use of Jaffa oranges and imagine yourself in Palestine or even Jordan's scented orange orchards. Post by Nicola Baird 

Stage 3 of making a Jaffa Cake - add a chocolate layer to the orange jelly layer.
Perhaps it's the time of the year but everyone seems to be talking oranges at the moment (January 2015). Admittedly I did go and see the film Paddington - so sweet, and a fantastic advert to the joys of making marmalade at home.

For the past 10 or more years I've made my own marmalade using Seville oranges available just after Christmas. But this year I've worked out that endlessly cooking boiling sugar and orange pith does my electric hob no good - at any rate I've had to replace two cracked hobs over the years. And though people have kindly offered their gas rings, I just can't imagine how I'd pace myself making marmalade in a friend's house as it seems to be a 24 hour experience!

And so I've turned to creating homemade Jaffa Cakes. Like marmalade making it is a bit of a procedure - lots of putting items to cool in fridge and freezer, not to mention the hunt for Agar flakes (a kind of seaweed that helps turn sauce into jelly).

Stage 1 of making a Jaffa Cake. This is the Genovese sponge base (lots of egg white whisking necessary). I made a trifle from the leftovers that didn't manage to make it into a 5cm disk.
I love Jaffa cakes and I'm always urging my non UK students to try them, claiming they are quintessentially English, and a biscuit. Until now I had no idea where the name came from. Turns out it's all a concoction - they are named after Jaffa oranges which are grown by Arab farmers in what is now Palestine. But you can also find Jaffa oranges growing in Cyprus, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. A nice thought to have about such troubled areas.

I'm not going to include the recipe of either my marmalade or the chocolate orange biscuits as I just looked on the internet, and recommend you do the same. But I can warn you that it takes a while and is definitely a tricky recipe. What i liked about making them was the little jaunt it gave my head out of my kitchen think and over to warm, scented orange orchards.

Over to you
What does the smell of oranges make you think about? Travel or teatime treats?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Meeting a very old mulberry tree - in Lewes

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Exploring Lewes you may find the oldest mulberry tree - at 35o years old it's ancient, but a mere tot compared to the oldest tree in the world that's found in California, and reckoned to have been there for 5,000 years. Shame Lewes is so much colder than California... Post by Nicola Baird 

Posing by the UK's oldest mulberry tree in Lewes. It's close to 350 years old.
Dried mulberries are sold in the Turkish shops near where I live in London, but finding fresh ones - or even seeing a mulberry tree is unusual. Even so I can guide you to the two mulberry trees nearest to my house and if it's late summer will try and spot the bright berries that seem to grow off the trunk. If you catch them then they are tasty to eat and fabulously burst into red squishes as you pick them and aim for your mouth.

The TV adaptation of Hilary Mantell's amazing study of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall showed us that the decision makers of the day enjoyed cherries when they were in season - well they liked mulberries too. I guess where the nursery rhyme, "Here we go round the mulberry tree... " dates from.

Nestled between the South Downs, the Sussex-town of Lewes boasts many historic attractions from first bowling green to oldest mulberry tree.

The mulberry tree is from the 17th century and found  in the city centre at Southover Grange Garden. This is a public park now, but it used to be a private garden.

I love the fact that this mulberry tree is not far from Anne of Cleeves house. Anne was one of Henry VIII's luckier wives who neither lost her head or heart. King Henry had been wowed by her Holbein portrait but wasn't so keen when he met her, allegedly saying she looked like a horse (not in a good way). Her house was part of the "conscious uncoupling" settlement and luckily for visitors is open all year round so gives another insight into how the Tudors lived.

Old giants
There are still quite a few very old trees around. The Woodland Trust keeps a record of ancient trees, and recently (autumn 2014) it's tree fans voted the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham - where Robin Hood allegedly used to hide - was named old tree of the year.

The oldest tree in the world is probably a bristlecone pine growing in California's white mountains  which has been there for 5,000 years. It's nicknamed Methuselah.

If only trees could talk, what stories they could tell.

Find out how to tree ID old trees with the Woodland Trust here.