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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.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

9 reasons to go to Melton Mowbray - food and fabulous views

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. Leicestershire is a place my family haven’t visited much despite it's fascinating battlegrounds, role in the industrial revolution and upkeep of traditional rural crafts – partly because it seems hard to get around, or at least it did until I found these travel tips On my most recent get-to-know Leicester trip I took a train from London-Grantham and a friend picked me up, but there’s a station in Melton Mowbray and some buses. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Midland cities may have a certain grimness, eg Birmingham, Derby, Leicester and Grantham, but they are surrounded by heart-achingly beautiful shires. The town of Melton Mowbray is in a part of Leicestershire that is especially lovely and you may find your way there enjoying views of the dramatic escarpment-sited Belvoir Castle. But almost any of the vales give you a huge view as if you are looking down on the landscape from a glider. 

I also love the wide and often uncut verges around Melton Mowbray, which during the summer are blanketed in wild flowers. The grass verge offers an escape route for cyclists and walkers if you are squeezed by a speeding car. In fact these verges are giant-sized compared to verges in other bits of England because the Leicestershire lanes were busy sheep drove roads - used to ensure passing flocks were able to graze as they travelled to the markets.

Eye spy Leicestershire: for your journey to Melton Mowbray
  • Food: Stilton cheese, Red Leicester cheese, Pork pie
  • Spot: Belvoir Castle
1) Melton Mowbray's got a great museum & it needs saving
The Melton Carnegie Museum is a complete gem, but like so many in the UK it is in great danger of having its funding cut. The exhibits introduce the rural crafts that Leicestershire excelled in – and in some cases, eg, stilton making, still does. You can see some of the old cheese making equipment at the museum. Or try sitting at a traditional pub table and have a go at dominoes.

Suggestions to keep this museum going – don’t cut its funding and add a café! There’s plenty of space near the two-headed calf. The museum is already really child-friendly but with a café it would be brilliant.

2) The two-headed calf at the Melton Mowbray museum
If you haven’t yet seen a two-headed (and two-tailed) calf then you need to go and see this ginger beauty ASAP. It’s a sad story, as the calf died very soon after being born, but a great way to get kids interested in the exhibits.

3) It’s got great cheese, pies & food festivals
Melton Mowbray is one of the five homes of Stilton cheese as well as Melton Mowbray pork pies. The old bootmakers, saddlers and horse livery yards may be gone, but cheese is still in the town’s DNA. 

You can try Stilton cheese any time, but a real treat should be the Artisan Cheese Fair from 30 April-1 May 2016. This claims to be Europe’s largest cheese fair, who’d have thought the UK did the biggest and best cheese fairs? You can also go to Melton Mowbray and buy local specialities from the Melton Cheeseboard

Every autumn there's also the Melton Mowbray Food Festival from 3-4 October 2015 showcasing around 150 local producers’ tasty products including cheese, pies, gold-infused bubbly and steamed puddings.

4) Find out about foxhunting
The Melton Carnegie Museum specialises in rural crafts including the trades that support foxhunting. Melton Mowbray became the epi-centre of foxhuting after Hugo Meynell popularised riding after hounds in the 18th century. For the next 150 years, from winter to spring, the area was packed with the bold and rich who would rent local houses in order to hunt with the Belvoir, Cottesmore and Quorn. Many of the town’s trades developed to cater for the winter guests including numerous livery stables which kept at least 1,000 horses.

Hunting raises very mixed emotions now, but at the start of the 20th century locals crowded to see the hunt set off. As many as 4,000 people on foot plus 300 riders turned up at the Quorn Hunt opening meet in November 1912, see for yourself on this short clip from Media Archive for Central England.  

Don't worry if foxhunting is not your thing: the Museum also has a showcase of items from the League Against Cruel Sports.

5) Paint the town red
Melton Mowbray is the town that got painted red (though not necessarily the town that gave the world the phrase “paint the town red”). 

On 6 April 1837 after a rowdy day at nearby Croxton Park races the Marquis of Waterford and his friends rode to town for yet another drink. When the toll keeper refused them entrance he was barricaded into his toll house and the toll gates painted red. The so-called gentlemen then ran riot, painting everything red including house doors, a model swan on the roof of Swan Porch, and even a policeman who tried to stop them.

It’d be fun to repeat the Mad Marquis’s crazy antics, perhaps the next time South Asians celebrate Mela there could be a historic mash-up? More detail about what the man who painted the town red actually did is here

6) It’s not all posh history
This is the place where the dense Melton cloth was created and gets its name. Melton cloth is what donkey jackets are made from (remember the infamous scruffy coat worn by Michael Foot?).

7) Let’s go to Melton Mowbray for a proper country market, how about next Tuesday?
This is market heaaven: Tuesday and Friday are market day with fruit and veg stalls, plus the usual. There is also an antiques/bric-a-brac market every Wednesday. Livestock markets (fur and feathers) are also on Tuesdays. And there is a farmers’ market (produce) on Tuesday and Friday. Plus a car boot sale on Sunday. Check opening and closing times here.

8) Use your feet
Take a walk around Melton Mowbray to spot key historic sites including Anne of Cleeves house (part of her divorce settlement) and the impressively large St Mary’s Church, using this map

9) Stay a while

There are loads of things to do in Leicestershire, have a look at the stay, play, explore offers at www.goleicestershire.com 

  • This post isn’t sponsored, however I have been to Leicester on a previous press trip -you can see more Leicestershire day out and travel ideas here at Conkers (just over the border in Derbyshire) and Richard III Visitor Centre and the National Space Centre in Leicester.

Friday, 10 July 2015

9 things to love about York

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 great place for a short visit is the cobbled city of York - just two hours by train from London, and even quicker from Edinburgh. York is a very walkable city, has a brilliant university but is still compact - so not like it's namesake New York. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Walking the Shambles in York. (c) Lola May
1 You have got to take a trip to York. When the wind blows in the right direction it smells of chocolate; there’s a city newspaper, The Press, and the River Ouse runs through the town’s pale stone houses,  and sometimes even into the city which pubs like the King’s Arms seem able to celebrate. Here are a few more reasons...

Lots more info: http://www.visityork.org/

A signpost near Clifford's Tower helps visitors
navigate. (c) Lola May
2 York is designed for people to walk around. The centre is car-free and as a result it’s a pleasure to go there. As it’s on the mainline train route it’s a tempting stop for most UK visitors, especially if they want to see the top 5 tourist destinations which also include London, Bath, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

3 York is history heaven. A walled city - rebuilt by the Victorians offering today’s visitors a wonderful respite from shopping. Look out for the white rose emblem. And guess which city was named after it... yes, New York, USA.

4 York has zillions of pubs. One for every day of the year even. Some are riverside, some are tucked into the narrow lanes that you need to learn to call snickleways.

Use this map of real ale pubs in the city centre created by CAMRA (the campaign for real ale) volunteers.

5 York is a real looker. The Harry Potter look of the Shambles is a must see. The Shambles - voted Britain's most picturesque street in 2010 - is a Medieval street with the top storey of the timber houses overhanging the lower section. Years gone by it was full of butchers, now it’s full of tourist eye-candy – from locally-made chocolates and ice cream to superior leather bags and belts.

6 York is spooky. There’s a city ghost tour that I’ve not yet done, but I want to.

7 York is full of spiritually-minded types, even an Archbishop. Back in 1984 when an outspoken cleric muttered he wasn’t sure about the Virgin Birth the response was a lightning strike that set the Minster alight. It took some time to repair.

Go visit the Minster. Or if you are heading through York north on a train look right as you leave the station.

York uni students at James College can have BBQs
on campus. (c) Lola May
8 York University is world class, and set around a pretty lake enjoyed by wildfowl. There are now16,000 students - but the campus is so huge that it seems to work. The size is offset by practicals such as the university library being open 24/7 and regular buses (the 4, 44 and university hopper) which whisk staff and students to and from the campus. So you don’t have to bike. But if you do want to bike there are easy to navigate cycle routes, some off road and plenty of cycle parking. Although there could always be more places to prop a bike.

More about the university here. It's a good place to stay if you are visiting between June-September. Here's a link to all of York's buses.

Betty's is a York institution. Put your nose
to the window if you aren't able to go in.
aroundbritainnoplane/Nicola Baird
9 York has the best tea shops. Betty’s is amazing – whether you go to the tiny one off Stonegate or the bigger branch at St Helen's Square. Worth dressing up for (and missing breakfast).

Betty's has other tea shops in the north of England, but the York branches are the best. Don't worry if you have to queue - that's part of the tradition, see here.

Central Hall - always rumoured to be sinking, but it never does.
The university opened in 1963 so parts have a brutalist look .
(c) aroundbritainnoplane/Nicola Baird
10 York is an amazing place to be a student – but people work in York too and not just in academia or tourism. This is a city buzzing with creativity, industry and the pesky folk advertising their ghost tour.

Allegedly the ghost tour of York leaving each night from the King's Arms, by the Ouse Bridge, is the oldest York ghost tour (although surely the Victorians would have done something similar). Back in the 1980s a friend of mine led these walk & talks so the claims may be correct. Try the tour here.

Over to you
What's your favourite city to visit in the UK? Is it a favourite because of it's history or your history (I love York extra amounts because I was a student there & my Dad used to run the Friargate Wax Museum - now sadly long shut, but that's the reason I didn't mention the Jorvik Viking Centre...)