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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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Cherry blossom season: London, Japan, Washington

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Here's a way to enjoy a taste of the cherry blossom of Japan, or the Washington cherry festival, just by taking a little walk around your local area. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

I love the way tree flowers are so showy, and yet most of would disagree that trees have flowers - because we think of it as blossom. 
Every year - after that long winter - the blossom seems sensational, as you can see from this gorgeous cherry tree flowering in a nearby London street.

2015 is proving an amazing one for cherry blossom thanks to the brilliant blue skies offering perfect backdrops, and cold, windless nights allowing the blossom to cling on for just one more marvellous, frothy day.

Of course Japan is famous for its cherry spectacles - known as sakura. You can see a map of where the biggest blossoms are here. Only today I learnt that Washington offers a National Cherry Blossom festival, with peak bloom between mid March and mid April, see here.

Unsung splendours
Knowing how important blossom is to the Japanese, and people in Washington, it is rather wonderful to take a walk through your hometown and pass a street tree or a generous planting on a council estate and see these fabulous pink and white blossoms blanketing a tree.

In the UK, once the cherry is out, watch for pear, apple and then my absolute favourite, hawthorn (or May) blossom. Spring is earlier in the south, so if you miss it just try heading north for an extra burst of springtime joy.

Here's an interview I wrote recently with a London tree champion who has been involved in counting the capital's trees, read it here. It seems amazing that 7 million trees thrive in such a built up place. But back to cherry trees. If you love anime as well, springtime is your chance to dress up and get searching for blossom backgrounds for your selfies. If you don't want to walk, then just sit down with instagram.

Lots more info about trees, blossom and gardening from the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley, near Woking, Surrey.

Over to you
What's your favourite tree blossom?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cakes and bikes : these are a few of my favourite things (Herts via Austria)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. So when I discovered the weather would be cycling-friendly for the Easter weekend instead of driving to Hertfordshire the family took the train and our bikes, and along the way channelled the Austrian family in The Sound of Music who lived close to Salzburg. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Pete and Lola fully kitted up for country lane cycling.
Not long ago politician Ed Balls said he'd gone on a Sound of Music cycle trip around Salzburg in Austria. Most of the interview was about politics, but this sounded like a fun family activity - regardless of age. Yes a bit schmultzy, but it would be an effortless way to get to know some of the musical/film's famous sights. Plus it's fun to sing when you cycle! Inspired I thought about going to Salzburg, and we may, but before we leave the country I figured I could organise a family cycle adventure that passed "a few of my favourite things" close to where I grew up around the green, gently undulating agricultural landscape of east Hertfordshire.

Besides, all of us wanted to go to Hertfordshire to stay with my brother/aunt/the cousins. Not everyone was so keen on the long cycling option so in the end Nell, 14, cycled there, and Lola, 16, cycled back. I'm sure Maria would have agreed to the compromise.

London is chock full of cafes, most selling two or three gluten options. Not so Hertfordshire! At Hopleys Cafe in the High Street of the gorgeous village of Much Hadham the cakes were heartily old-fashioned sizes and filled with flour and sugar. Perfect for cyclists - and there is the Bull Inn next door.
After six or so miles on the bikes we were happy to treat ourselves at Hopleys Cafe and garden centre in Much Hadham High Street. Opposite Hopleys is the house poet Walter de la Mare rented. Further up the high street is a museum where the blacksmith Mr Page lived and worked. He used to shoe my pony, but I remember him talking about the time he had shod horses heading to Channel ports and on to World War One.

Much Hadham is a really special village - it's full of grand houses, including a palace once used by the Bishops of London. Unfortunately when they decamped here in 1665 they also brought the black plague which killed many locals. On our cycle ride we went through the bluebell woods which I was told from childhood had been used for plague pits.

Not everything in and around idyllic Much Hadham is grand. On the road to the Henry Moore sculpture garden you might find the junk shop at Green Tye open. Defintely worth looking in here for treasure to wrap as brown paper parcels.
Much Hadham is still a commuter village, though how the residents must regret Beeching closing the train line back in the 1950s as they struggle to get a parking spot at suitable stations - Ware, Sawbridgeworth, Bishop's Stortford.

The weekend turned into a bit of a work camp for the adults, while the kids spent most of it on the trampoline. My brother left a list of instructions (I pegged it to the cherry tree) so that when he returned to work I could stay outside.

As a child I day dreamed I'd run a family business of field cleaner-uppers - I'm not sure such a job ever existed - picking up horse poo; pulling ragwort, docks and nettles; raking and turning hay; mending fences... It is not very aspirational, but funny to have ended up with my day dream granted now I have my own family. Not surprisingly it was only me who really enjoyed the graft, and that was partly because it meant I went to bed and slept soundly.

Nell and Pete on top of the pill box built during World War Two when this part of flat Hertfordshire, just west of Bishop's Stortford, was used as a military runway.
If you try and do a similar bike journey with your family, remember when buying train tickets that if your children (or friends) are under and over 16 that the tickets and discount cards are different. I managed to muddle this up, but was lucky to meet an extremely sympathetic Abellio ticket seller at Bishop's Stortford - "we're not all bad you know" who wrote a personal note for the inspectors at Liverpool Street which allowed our group of three to pass through on the tickets I had already purchased.

Anyone can use the cycle pump and cycle tools at this bike spa outside Euston station.
As we cycled along our last homestretch, through London streets - panniers stuffed with chocolate easter eggs - I heard Lola humming away and could see that Pete was really looking at the architecture (possibly thinking Salzburg??). Cycling is like that - it's an easy way to transport body and heart (assuming the bikes don't break) and as you get into the cycling rhythm you have the pleasure of starting to notice the world around you a bit more. I want to do this sort of trip again, but will have to be sure I'm selling it as an adventure, as my teens and husband are very suspicious of route marches, even when they come with pub and cake stops.

Our route: 
Stage 1: Sawbridgeworth station - Much Hadham (via Allan's Green, Green Tye)
Stage 2: Much Hadham - Bishop's Stortford station (via Little Hadham, Bury Green)
Tip: take an OS map - these back roads are not always clearly signposted, in a couple of places near Allan's Green the sign was facing in the wrong direction.

Much Hadham Forge Museum
Hopleys Cafe, Much Hadham
The Junk Shop, Green Tye, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire SG10 6JP.. Check times: 01279 842322
The Bull, Much Hadham
Henry Moore, Perry Green From 1 May -25 October, wednesdays to Sundays, 11am-5pm.

Over to you
Where do you recommend cycling? How do you get the bikes there? What essential kit do you take?