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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.

Monday, 22 June 2015

SPONSORED: Leicester offers an Indian bazzar and King Richard III detective story

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. A trip to Leicester’s newly opened King Richard III Visitor Centre impresses both a mum and her teenage daughter offering a mall, car-free streets, history with passion and the famous Leicester cuisine. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Look how people love to walk in the road in Leicester. Leicester City Centre is a great place for pedestrians - the 2009
street redesign won many awards. The Haymarket Memorial Clock is the centre of the car-free zone, about 10 mins easy
stroll to the station.
Leicester used to be famous chiefly for its Golden Mile of Indian restaurants, sari shops and stores along Belgrave and Melton Road, which is allegedly the closest the UK has to an Indian bazaar (even beating Brick Lane). But now say Leicester and whoever you are talking to will go, “isn’t that where they found the king in the car park?” 

It’s ironic really as Leicester is the most walking friendly city in the UK at the moment (this is my opinion, although York is a close contender). Back in the 1990s it had secured the crown for being a really bikeable city with loads of off-road cycle routes. Not everyone likes making massive cycle detours, but I’m sure the citizens of Leicester are suitably fit as a consequence.

But since 2009 the central part of Leicester is entirely car free. You can arrive at the train station (or use a park and ride, or a bus) and wander around on your feet in a shopping daze without fear you will be struck by a vehicle. And of course it’s quieter so easier to hear your companions chat as you stroll. Info about the redesign is here.

At the heart of the city is the Cathedral or Highcross Leicester mall – depending on your views.

The Cathedral garden is far lovelier
than this pic!
The Cathedral is surrounded by little lanes, dedicated to shopping and eating, and backed by the Guildhall and a Christian centre, which runs the very fine White Rose café. It is fronted by a beautifully designed wild garden which gives a wonderful feeling of meditative peace. And here’s the first clue of why we're here: a statue of Richard III who died “a king”, wearing his crown over his armour at the nearby Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – losing to Henry VII (Henry VIII’s dad).

Richard III’s body was lost for centuries, and then a determined screenplay writer, Phillipa Langley, read a biography on her holidays and developed a hunch the lost king must have been buried in a car park near the Cathedral. 

In February 2013 – after a long fundraising campaign and a tough-time getting the academics to take her seriously (but she managed it), a skeleton with a strangely shaped spine was discovered in the car park behind Alderman Newton school in what was once the site of Greyfriars Abbey.

Entrance and film in the arches at the Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester.
Bad reputation
Richard III’s life is exciting for anyone, not just historians. His reputation has had to contend with Tudor propaganda (they were the winners of the Wars of the Roses after all) and Shakespeare’s unflattering portrait – acted over the years by stunning actors including Laurence Oliver, Ian McKellan and most recently Mark Rylance at the Globe. Plus there’s the tricky question of whether Richard III killed his nephews, the little princes who disappeared from the Tower of London under his watch.

At the newly opened King Richard III Visitor Centre visitors are encouraged to reconsider the evidence of what killed those princes. It’s a game, but the answers from the visitors reveal how very different this exhibition is:
  • Richard III killed them -8%
  • Normal causes killed the Princes - 10 %,
  • Lady Margaret Beaufort murdered them - 31%
  • Henry Tudor murdered them - 20 %
  • They were hidden - 10%
  • Duke of Buckingham murdered them - 9%

Portrait of Richard III (done after his death) and a model of his face, recreated using his skull - both at the King Richard III Visitor Centre. Richard III was only 32 when he died fighting at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He'd been king since he took the crown in 1483.
Good PR – better late than never
On the ground floor, with only her knowledge of Richard III from seeing the play Nell, 14, reckoned he was a baddie. But by the time she’d read the rest of the information boards she, like the exhibition, was utterly pro-Richard III. Richard is handsome (his scoliosis wasn’t that bad and didn’t effect him much); Richard is a lawmaker who improved juries and bail conditions, insisted on fair trials and also saw that laws were written in English so easier to understand than when they had been in French or Latin.

I’m used to National Trust and English Heritage exhibitions that show you a rich person (or family) from the past and hint at how they lived. It makes you want to ask questions, but doesn’t excite like the Richard III story. 

Here you are caught up in the Leicester team’s joy as they discover that DNA from relatives on the female side match the DNA in the bones they’ve found (all but the King's feet were discovered, these seem to have been destroyed by earlier building work in the area). The skeleton in the car park really is Richard III. 

It’s like a detective story – history at its compelling best.

On the ground floor the info panels are exceptionally well presented, and easy to read. I also liked the way your tour starts by watching a film projected between arches, which makes the characters seem to mingle with the visitors. The info is often asked as a question, challenging how you think. 

Upstairs it’s all about the discovery, the teamwork with universities and the positive effective finding Richard III had on people living in Leicester. Anyone who is a fan of Time Team is going to love this.

Without doubt this is the best history exhibition I’ve seen.

So who else would enjoy it? It works best for thoughtful kids who can read, although the finale – the grave site with a light outlining the awkward way the king’s skeleton had been dumped in his grave, which you can walk over on a panel of glass - would intrigue any age. There’s also a café in the exhibit.  Nell is planning to do a history GCSE so it was ideal for her (and I think A level and uni students would be just as captivated), but there were some younger Brownies going around who seemed to be finding Richard III’s story far more interesting than they’d expected when the Brown Owl told them about the visit.

Throughout our trip we could hear Leicester Cathedral bells peeling – a nice touch, but it was a special day with services to celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta. But that’s another blog post…

  • Visiting the Richard III Visitor Centre, 4a St Martins, Leicester, LE1 costs adult £7.95, student £7, child (5-15) £4.95, family ticket of 2 adults, 2 children £21.50. Booking advised.    @KRIIICentre
  • More about bike lanes and car free routes in Leicester in my book The Estate We’re In: who’s driving car culture? (Indigo, 1998), available also as an ebook here
  • Highcross Leicester open mon-tues, thurs-fri 9am-6pm; wed 9am-8pm, sat 9am-7pm and sun 11am-5pm  @highcross


1 comment:

Pete May said...

It was Shakespeare that murdered the twins!