A-Z activities

A-Z countries

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.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The joy of lists & travel wish lists

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 quick piece about the joy of lists written as a result of five long walks around East Hertfordshire that made me think about wildlife. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Which country has the most dangerous wildlife? (Namibia?) Which has the most animals? (Costa Rica) Which is most likely to start World War 3? (Depends on your politics). Have you seen the Big 5? (said on Safari whilst looking for elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros.. .). The internet is crazy for Buzzfeed style lists - and I love them too. So while I was in Hertfordshire for the xmas holidays I kept a little list to share with you. Here's what I saw, and wish I could have shown you:
Late afternoon shadows while walking the dog with
one daughter and one husband.

Plaque at the farm shop.

  • 1 kite hovering
  • 3 dead deer on the roadside
  • 1 farm shop (I adore farm shops and Pearce's farm shop between Buntingford and Puckeridge is fantastic, and has a cafe!)
  • 2 great sunrises
  • 3 gorgeous sunsets
  • 1 frost and fog (frog) filled day
  • 1 herd of deer - utterly beautiful as they crossed a field of winter wheat (about 20)
  • 2 red kites (a moment of joy!)
  • 1 toad kept me awake calling for girlfriends (i didn't see him, just heard the noise)
  • 1 farm of alpacas (llamas have banana ears, alpacas look as if they were put together wrong but they have great colourways - the photo shows them in cream, black and chocolate)
  • 1 dead deer on the roadside (another)
  • 40+ ducks quacking on the river

An alpaca farm in Buntingford, Herts run by Herts Alpacas (farmed for their fleece and as breeding animals).
List champions
Even if I think my list of holiday wildlife spots is pretty good, it pales into insignificance compared with my mum's list abilities. Even the list of what's in the deep freezer (1 packet of peas - 10 servings) is considerably more detailed and more often edited. Perhaps better attention to list making could be my 2017 resolution... I still need to visit more of the countries of the world without leaving the UK and adding to climate change.

Over to you?
So, what do you write lists about? Is it the mundane - shopping lists, what's for dinner? Or is the sublime - all those magical animal sightings or, better still, wildlife connection. Or is it the wish list - the places you long to travel whether by mechanised transport or via books, films and you tube? Let me know. And here are some belated seasons greetings too.

Monday, 7 November 2016

We've got to keep tackling climate change

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. Forgive me please for worrying about climate change - whoever gets voted into the White House on Tuesday 8 November 2016. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Steve Malkin, founder and CEO of The Planet Mark
There's this man. Nicholas Stern. He's an economist and 10 years ago he produced The Stern Report (2006) which warned that climate change was going to cause huge social and financial costs. Stern is now an extremely sprightly looking 70 but unfortunately he's clear that his 10-year ago warning has not been acted on in the way he expected.  "It's worse than I had feared," he tells Robin McKie in the weekend Observer. (06/11/16)

Over the past 10 years sustainability services have crept on to the high street - from juice bars,
food waste campaigns, charges for plastic bags and even repair and reuse shop, but it hasn't stopped
carbon levels going up far beyond the level Stern advised had to be the cut off point. 
Thinking back on my life over the past 10 years I haven't exponentially increased my environmental footprint. But I certainly haven't reduced it much either. 

  • I've made just one long plane journey (to the other side of the world in 2011 where my family and I stayed for four months), but that's the only flight. I haven't bought a car or used one much. (I can hear Tim Smit calling me a po-faced do-gooder, but luckily this blog's readers' cannot!).
  • This year so far I've only rented a car for 2 hours and that was to go to the recycling centre.
  • But I haven't improved our house's eco-efficiency for a few years now - and i am a far less fierce opponent in the Cold War battle raged over the thermostat by my husband and I than i was in the year Stern's Report came out.
  • And frankly I haven't done much bigger picture stuff either. My street isn't using less carbon, nor is my daughter's school, the university where I teach or the city where I live, London.

I don't think my suck-it-and-see (aka head in the sand) attitude towards climate change is unusual. For the past few years the climate has made headlines - think extreme weather, unseasonal and violent flooding, the big Californian/Australian drought - but it hasn't inspired corresponding action. As PM David Cameron promised to be green and yet managed to  cut support for solar panels on people's homes; kill the Green Deal which helped people insulate old homes and got rid of green building standards for new homes. All would have fitted in fine to an austerity budget - who knows why they were snuffed out.

The only glimmer of hope is the Paris Agreement - ratified in November 2015 and now, a year on, signed and sealed. It's aim is to get the world reducing their carbon emissions to a safe - or effective level. But now Nicholas Stern says, "I cannot say that I am confident it will happen".  It is all very depressing. So, it was with some curiosity that I went to an event recently celebrating a range of businesses' efforts to be more sustainable via The Planet Mark - a certification system that gives participants incentives to cut their carbon emissions - which was held at the sassy Hospital Club. 

The Planet Mark
The Planet Mark is an idea created by founder and CEO Steve Malkin just three years ago. During The Planet Mark sustainability week (this November) various great and good shared their learning, and on the night I attended it was all about the ways sustainability changes you and your business.

Sir Tim Smit from the Eden Project at The Planet Mark 3rd anniversary

You'll find this at the Lost gardens of Helligan,
close to the Eden Project.
Charismatic boss of Cornwall's Eden Project (a place you absolutely must go), Sir Tim Smit gave a rabble-rousing speech about doing good at the same time as being a capitalist. Tim is smart and funny and woos the new generation of concerned citizens just as effectively as he has done their elder brothers and sisters. This time he looks like he's having more fun though.

Steve Malkin encouraged the audience - predominantly suit-wearers - to go on the Hothouse training that the Eden Project has created in a bid to transform the way business leaders think, react and lead. He urged us to "infect five people" with the sustainability bug. A nice challenge...

Matthew Owen from Cool Earth speaking at The Planet Mark 3rd anniversary.
Cool Earth
And Cool Earth's Matthew Owen talked about the need for a new way to save the rainforest because the old methods weren't working at all. Cool Earth likes to save the rainforest a village at a time by working with the forests' inhabitants. His talk captivated my teenage daughter who is living away from home for the first time and has clearly been starved of eco-bunny conversation. Matthew is an amazing speaker and Cool Earth appears to be doing what it wants - saving rainforest - very successfully in Peru, Congo and even PNG. Saving rainforest isn't just good for those villagers, it's also good for reducing CO2 levels.

Summing up
The Planet Mark is quite a new certification system -  its oldest projects are just three years. As a result I don't know that much about it - and after involvment with organic certification and the Forest Stewardship Council I am surprised that any set up can secure immediate accreditation just because you have a commitment to cut your carbon emissions. But the people in the room are big influencers - including engineers responsible for surfacing runways, building roads and other infrastructure.  To get people behind cutting carbon, dealing with climate change or even tackling sustainability (that old Rio phrase) you have to win their hearts, minds and possibly pockets. These guys definitely are good at doing that.

My daughters in Cornwall
contemplating big plants (a
few years ago).
I don't think it is possible to create the world we need by doing business as usual - especially if that business keeps hopping on to planes, demanding new runways and evading tax. But if business won't change - or certainly won't change enough for Stern to have confidence in it - then efforts to cut carbon have to be the next best approach. Climate change is a huge problem - one no individual can solve on their own. But schemes like The Planet Mark help empower individuals to make changes in their work and life that my mean the world is left a little bit of a better place. And that is enough for me to applaud this fascinating attempt to get businesses cutting carbon.

Besides I love a challenge: perhaps using some of The Planet Mark ideas in my home might mean I could get back on track with my own sustainability mission? The answer to that will be in another post.

But as Sir Tim pointed out - it makes sense to learn to communicate what we know better. 

For most of my working life I've written about saving the rainforest and, frankly, tragically, it hasn't done much to save it. Cool Earth claim to have taken a new direction for saving the rainforest. So when it comes to climate change another method of making a bigger difference might also be to improve the message, perhaps by using the tips in climate campaigner George Marshall's most recent book, Don't Even Think About It

Whatever you are doing to raise awareness about climate change and sustainability - and however you are doing it  I wish you the very best of luck. If Stern is right, we certainly need it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

It's Marx, undercover in London

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 look at everyone's favourite bearded Leftie, Karl Marx. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
The Marx Memorial Library and Workers' School in Clerkenwell.
This was opened in 1933 and runs talks and walks. An interesting place.
Tours of the buidling are on Tuesday & Thursday at 1pm.
Know your Marx
Is Marx still relevant? Ask that question in a classroom and the students will be busy for hours. Ask it while waiting to collect kids from school and you may find yourself discussing Marks & Spencer.

What I love about the big theme changers of history is that they were just like us. Well, OK, a bit different. But in the case of Karl Marx (1818-43) who lived in London for many years you can piece together a picture of what he was like by a bit of detective work. It's easy to follow a trail of the places he lived, knew well and even drank at - although I find it galling that his work is very  hard to re-interpret with an ecological perspective.

The two photos are places in Islington with links to Marx - for more information about people who live or work in Islington see www.islintonfacesblog.com.

The Old Red Lion, near Angel, was one of Karl Marx's drinking spots.
The Karl Marx Pub Crawl
One pub in Islington, The Old Red Lion, is celebrating 400 years of open doors. It's a lovely pub, with an upstairs theatre and a neat little passageway that allows customers to slip from St John's Road to City Road without being noticed.  It's also a pub that Karl Marx knew well. You can follow a pub crawl from Tottenham Court Road to Hampstead - just like Marx allegedly did - as mapped out by Londonist here.

In the spirit of the useful texts Marx for Dummies, here are five random facts about Marx...

1 A good Trier
He was born in Trier in Germany. Yes, it makes me laugh.

2 Marxism means...
That states are run in the interests of the ruling classes, hence the need for a class struggle. His social, economic and political mash up - refined in The Communist Manifesto - was written by him when he was a stateless person. it must have been galling to fix your central idea on who gets to run the state when you are stateless. Perhaps if German history had been different he'd have had a dull but occupying middle class job  (after all his Dad was a lawyer and owned vineyards in Moselle), and would never have had the chance to think, write, dream, publish - and be damned.

3 Anniversaries for things Marx did
The Communist Manifesto - the political pamphlet written in German by Marx and his financially generous friend, Engels - was published in London on 21 February, 1848.  Here's a link to History Today celebrating this link.  1848 was a very hot political year in Europe - revolution broke out in France on February 22.

4 "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their... "
Marx's magnificent beard suggests that peak beard is not a new phenomena. This is the final sentence of the Communist Manifesto - a fiery synthesis of the materialistic conception of history. But thanks to the way capitalism has developed, and our familiarity with chains of stores it's easy to read a little differently.

5 Workers of the world unite!
Was Marx the first advertising slogan writer? It's catchy, alliterative and a call for action.

Over to you
There are plenty of places that can claim Marx - his homeland of Germany (he was Prussian-born), Paris, Brussels and London. But who else does? And who have the best claims? It's another question to argue robustly about as you find out more about Karl Marx.

Let me know what you find out.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Picking pears in a Kent orchard - timeless European labour

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 look at how picking pears connects you with people from years ago - and the neighbourhood. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Pear Necessities: loaded with pears for the
journey back from a Kent orchard to
organic pear buyers in London.
Pears have always been here: there used to be forests of wild pears in Europe and even the Greeks ate them. Even now, and although I live in London, there are several pear trees planted around the residential streets. About this time of the year the street pear trees seem stacked with fruit which tends to drop off on to the pavement and becomes a favourite squishing point for anyone who walks past. A couple of years I collected a cycle helmet load of these small pears and turned them into a very local concoction - redcurrant (grown in my garden) and pear jelly. It went down well, something to repeat perhaps?

The orchard pear trees are loaded with fruit.
While picking I saw red admiral butterflies and a cricket.
And now I’m picking pears in my friends’ amazing Kent orchard. 

My friends run a social enterprise, Pear Necessities, alongside a number of other jobs. This year their trees are laden with pears which must all be picked.  

Waiting to be moved to cold storage.
I've squeezed just three tiny apple trees into my garden so this looks a big orchard to me – two huge fields of carefully kept pears. However to make the pear harvest every September a success they need keen, strong friends to turn up and work. Picking pears is very enjoyable and certainly puts my thumb nails to use - the best way remove all pears from their tree with a long stalk. The pears that are in good condition – with no wet scarring from bird beaks, insects or squirrels – are As: top class organic pears. Those without a long stalk, or that are in some way damaged, are B pears. Bs are sold for less as they are likely to blemish quicker/store for a shorter length of time. But Bs can make wonderful pickles and also perry (pear cider) and if eaten first are still very delicious.

At the moment all the pears are crunchy. As they ripen they will turn totally juicy.

Partied, pruned & picked
I’ve partied and pruned at the pear orchard before, but this was my first time picking. Shunting quantities of pears from tree to crate the children’s tongue twister got me thinking about measurements. At this orchard it’s all about, wheelbarrows, crates and tonnes. But the nursery rhyme uses pecks:

"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"

There’s also an old saying that eating a “peck of dirt” will do you no harm. Turns out that two pecks (dry weight) is equal to four gallons, so that's a big bucket. And four pecks is a bushel… It’s strange how measurements change, but then again most of farming is on such a huge scale and the commercial farmers seen on the TV programme Country File like mega kit. In this human scale in Kent field it's more about how many pears a person can load into a wheelbarrow before it becomes too heavy to lift up and tip into a massive crate… which will in turn be lifted by a forklift truck.

Quick selfie in the Pear Necessities orchard, in Kent, with volunteer pear
pickers Sean, me and Jenny.
Hopefully it’s not trade secrets to share that the weekend saw 4.5 tonnes of pears picked, or that we drove back to London in the Pear Necessities' Landrover with half a tonne of delicious pears which will be sold at the Growing Communities' farmers' market and also go into the box scheme.

Part of the fun of pear picking is the moments when you stop, rest and chat over
a cup of tea and ginger cake. And there is a hearty lunch of soup and bread. Here volunteer pear picker
 Jenny demonstrates how to look both comfortable and erudite in the cosiest camping chair of all time.
September is the season for giving and swapping. Back in London walking the last stretch home with my pickers' gift of a bag of B pears, I was able to swap a few with a neighbour who often brings me wood. In return he seemed eager to give me a few of his windfall apples. And then arriving at my house I found a friend had left a half full keg of beer for my husband, Pete. While in the back office there’s a pumpkin turning from green to orange which my lovely neighbour Sai grew and gave us last week. I do love this custom of giving and swapping - made so much easier if you see your neighbours out and about.

Last year's most interesting shaped pear.
Keep picking
There may not be wild forests of pears to tell stories about anymore, or to get lost in, or scrump fruit, but there is most definitely still a season when all hands are needed to do the picking. Picking pears - or other fruit - doesn’t just link you with a labouring past stretching back 1000s of years, it is also a very companionable way – or contemplative if you are on your own – of spending some autumn hours. It's definitely hard graft, which is perhaps why Pete and our youngest daughter Nell opted to go to a football game instead.

Dog days of summer equals pears at the market
These pears are destined for sale to a Hackney organic fruit and farming scheme. According to the Growing Communities organic market website their producers...

"Pear Necessities sells organic pears at the market from September through to Christmas from their small organic pear orchard near Goudhourst in Kent.  The 10 acre orchard grows four varieties of pear: Conference, Comice, Packham and Concorde. Pear Necessities is a partnership established in 2008 to convert an existing conventionally farmed orchard to organic methods. Pear Necessities aim to grow fruit using carbon-conserving methods of feeding and disease control.  The farm received full organic status in August 2010 and is now planting a new fruit and nut orchard in a 7 acre pasture beside the existing pear orchard. In years to come they will be harvesting (and selling!) apples, plums, cherries, figs, apricots and more." 

The super-fluffy Pear Necessities dog squeezes up to me in the
pear-laden Landrover on the drive home. Soon half a tonne of pears
will be on sale at the market or packed into the local organic box scheme
run by Growing Communities.
Thanks to the pleasure of being in a pear orchard, I’ve resolved to give up saying my most over-used phrase “it’s all gone pear shaped”. It’s just too negative a bunch of words for such a delicious fruit. On a more positive note soon I’ll be eating my pears hot poached - cooked up in a magic mix of cinnamon, star anise and wine, and then polished off with chocolate sauce. Roll on dinner!

  • If you live in Hackney, Haringey or Islington and want to have a regular bag of organic fruit and veg, grown close to home then have a look at the Growing Communities box scheme. 
  • Growing Communities also runs an organic farmers' market on Saturdays in Hackney from 10am-2.30pm at St Paul's Church, Stoke Newington, N16 7UY. It's a fun day out and there are plenty of street food stalls at the market too, including pear offerings.

Over to you
What foods do you swap with your neighbours? Do you grow anything especially to swap?

Monday, 19 September 2016

7 things to inspire you to take a Hastings day trip - beach launching NZ style

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 look at the joys of Hastings which includes being outside, plenty of fish and the chance to watch boats beach launching -just like you might in New Zealand. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Cliffs, beach, oyster pots... family bonding at Hastings.
It's just 90 mins from Charing Cross to Hastings by train, and then a 15 minute downhill walk to Hastings Old Town where if the sky is blue it's very easy to pick up the holiday vibe.  Hastings is on all the trend setters' radar at the moment. In the Old Town there are organic shops, local provenance shops, loads of antique and bric-a-brac shops as well as delicious places to eat. We found Eat@TheStade - part of a new low black shed complex near the new Jerwood Foundation gallery. We had three sandwiches - all came with salad and crisps - and a coffee, which cost £12.15. But we could have spent a lot less with a bit of planning. Here's how.

I'm still not sure what fish this is.
1) TAKE A PICNIC and enjoy the stoney beach. This is the British seaside so it's quite windy. There's often a strong on-shore wind so bring a fleece, or a windbreak... or just dig into the stones. At some point you may be tempted to eat fish and chips so add plenty of fruit and veg to your picnic. And when you've eaten go exploring. We were surprised by what we found...

The Hastings fishing fleet are working boats. You can even buy freshly landed fish from beach sheds.
2) HASTINGS IS ALL ABOUT FISHING - not just being arty. Watch the famous RX boats (R for Rye, X for Sussex) being launched, or landing, directly on to the beach. There's a real skill to landing a heavy boat on to a beach - plus you need serious kit (eg, a caterpillar tractor) to then drag the boat up the beach above the high tide mark.

Stunning Hastings scene - and it's very easy to photo as there's a pub opposite.
3) TAKE PHOTOS of the the huts built to dry fishing nets. The black huts look like three-storey garden sheds but they add a huge amount of atmosphere to Hastings. Find them just where the busy main road that runs along the seafront past the pier is obliged to swing inland because of the cliffs.

4) GO TO THE MUSEUM OF FISHING which is in the Old Town and free to enter. It's full of photos of fishing characters and dominated by a large fishing boat which you can climb on to.  My party enjoyed seeing the vast wingspan of a stuffed albatross and a film about a ship in trouble created by the RNLI.

5) THE MUSEUM OF SHIPWRECKS is next door and it's another winner, also free, and probably less crowded. The sea hides so many secrets - even when divers bring up a wreck there is plenty of mystery about which ship sank, when and where it was heading.

Ye Olde Pumphouse - irresisitable
6) POTTER AROUND THE OLD TOWN - the chic and interesting places are obvious.

The Old Town Fryer - a prize winning chippy.
7) YOU'RE BY THE SEA. Hastings had a bad reputation as a rundown seaside town where London boroughs would "dump" their homeless during the 1980s. The years seem to have soothed that injury. And like any seaside place there is plenty going on - loads of end-of-the-pier amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and little stores selling beach rubbish. There's also an aquarium, a mini train that runs along the front and a restored pier.

OVER TO YOU: Have you been to Hastings - or to anywhere else in the world where boats get beach launched? If so do share some thoughts...

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Paddleboarding - the modern way to try out Venetian gondola life

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. Just enjoyed a new activity - stand up paddleboarding - and combined it with a couple of hours picking up rubbish from a canalWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

I only collected one of these rubbish tubs. Have to admit that I was so proud I forgot
to ask #Trash4Treats organiser Kiko how she got rid of them. Notice I'm holding a cake 
(rhubarb and coconut, yum) which was my treat for being a SUP litter picker.
What is it about the very end of August?  It seems to be a time I need adventure, ideally on the water...

Lola, then 13, with Patrick from
  Kayak Sydney taking us out in sea
kayaks under Sydney Harbour's
famous bridge.
Five years ago I took up an invite from Patrick at www.kayaksydney.com to paddle with then 13 year old Lola around Sydney Harbour under the famous bridge. It was fantastic - we went past amazing houses, rode the wake of the ferry and enjoyed Australia's bluest skies. (In a bid to avoid adding to climate change the family plan is to avoid flying, or to make a trip every 10 years).

Roll on 2016 and I'm trying to stand on a paddleboard on the quiet waters of the River Lee Navigation (the canal) which runs past Olympic Park in Stratford. There's a great stand up paddleboarding organisation, run by Kiko, called SUPkiko which combines two hours of learning to paddleboard with collecting rubbish from the canal.

There are five of us on today's #Trash4Treats outing. None of us have ever stood on a board before - but 30something Kiko, who learnt how to paddleboard while working in Uganda, explains clearly what we have to do. She reckons only 1 per cent of people fall in (and they possibly want to do so!).

Canals are notoriously dirty thanks to the lack of tide. Even with Kiko's regular #Trash4Treats scheme - where paddleboarders go out rubbish picking for two hours and when they return are rewarded with an ice cream or a nice piece of cake - there is plenty of litter. In fact Kiko dreamed up the idea while paddleboarding here because she didn't like her "office" (ie the canal) to be so grubby.

Everyone is meant to collect at least 10 pieces of rubbish but quite soon the five new paddleboarders have hoiked enough trash to fill their rubbish bucket. Kiko's got two!

Back on land it's clear that we've all got the same sort of stuff - polystyrene chunks, empty beer and drinks cans/bottles, condom wrappers and plastic bags. I've also found drinking straws, a large chunk of foam and a yellow plastic bowl.

Kiko says her scariest find was a doll's face with long flowing blonde hair. Guess what that looked like at first?

Learning to standup paddleboard via #Trash4Treats run by SUPkiko at Hackney Wick
(there's Kiko bottom right). With treats provided by the Milk Float Cafe
Hunting for litter is a good way to forget any standing up nerves. You start the session on your knees, just to get the hang of the paddle. After 10 minutes (or however long you need), you lay the paddle across the board and stand.

My legs were shaking at first but by repeating the mantra "your paddle is your friend" (hopefully silently) I began to enjoy the sensation. When I felt like I was about to fall (eg, as a result of my poor steering, another paddleboard heading towards me or getting tangled in the thick green weed that coats part of the canal, or me rubbernecking the hipster bars in this area) I just went forward on to my knees.

To be truthful I loved paddling on my knees. But this is stand up paddleboarding so I stood up and went for it.

SUP (stand up paddleboarding) is an all body work out. It's not too hard to learn, and as a bonus the muscle workout is amazing - I woke the next day feeling as if my chest/back was actually barrel shaped as clearly every one of the muscles/ligaments around my ribs had been worked equally.  They definitely don't function like this when I'm on the laptop.

When conditions are right (ie I'm on land or on water, but not on the high seas thinking I'm about to drown) water is often calming, but Kiko claims SUP can be meditatively good for you too.

Kiko's friend Charlie Head, who has paddleboarded the Amazon, is currently going round the UK on a SUP talking about mental health issues (and travel) #TheBigStand.  Follow Charlie's facebook page and you can see a much shared video about how mental health effects us all (and donate £3 for his next meal, #thehungrySUPper!). I've also linked to his 2min video from Blackpool Pier here:

And even if paddleboarding wasn't making your mind relax (I keep imagining I'm in Venice), it's extremely cheering having so many passersby congratulate the paddleboarders when they see them chasing a bit of litter, Kiko is a brilliant ambassador for cleaning up the canals. While supervising her newbies, she also chats with all sorts along the canalside including the drinkers at Crate and Grow, the boats that come past and lots of kids (she used to be a teacher).

Ahhhh London, so beautiful, and now a little bit cleaner in the Venetian light.
"It's brilliant what you are doing!" "Is it easy to stand up?" are the things the people we pass keep on saying as we paddle up towards Hackney Marshes and back. What a fantastic way to spend the afternoon.

My husband, Pete, was definitely impressed, claiming I'd passed my "hipster proficiency test" as we had a cheeky lager at Tank (one of the many super cool bars near the super coolest of all the canalside bars, Crate, in Hackney Wick). Perhaps one day after a West Ham match at their new stadium some Hammers fans (like Pete even) will avoid the crowds at Stratford and instead just hop on to a SUP and paddle back to their homes? It's a nice thought, but for now if you take a paddle with Kiko you can enjoy crowd-free canals with only a little bit of dodging young coots, swans and the occasional passing barge. Bliss.

VERDICT: Go and try SUP paddleboarding with Kiko. It's really fun, and definitely will reward you with a set of photos that seem nothing short of miraculous - you (well me) standing on a paddleboard on the water. Kiko also runs corporate (team bonding) paddleboarding sessions and has a base at Richmond for those Londoners who don't do north east. 
website: SUPKiko  @SUP_Kiko Insta: SIPKiko F: SUPKiko

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Making big battle tours - via Battle, Sussex

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 look at three of the top UK tourist battlegrounds - Waterloo, Ypres and Battle (for the Battle of Hastings).
 Obviously the one at Battle, in Sussex, is the easiest to visit without leaving the UK! 
Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Window at Battle Abbey (monks' dormatry)
Battlefields in the old sense - a field where history is rewritten by the victor - have always had tourists. The battleground at Waterloo (1815) and at Hastings (1066) have also been used for many re-enactions which also bring in visitors. And then there's Ypres - a town totally destroyed during World War 1 that has been rebuilt exactly as it was, as a memorial to those who died.

For anyone interested in history taking a tour of a battleground is strangely compelling.

You feel closer to the action and you learn a lot of extra facts (especially if you take an audio guide) Often you find yourself taking sides. But the tourists who visit these places aren't necessarily picking the winning side, so there is clearly a huge amount of skill in breaking down the information for modern visitors, in order to take in their age or nationality without dumbing history down or forgetting this is both a memorial site, and a repeatable day trip.

Looking towards the Menin Gate at Ypres
100 years since WW1
At Ypres the In Flanders Field Museum has a sophisticated tour that tells you the story with an angle to suit your lifestory and age. So a teenage boy gets a very different experience to his mum. Every day at 8pm you can go and listen to the haunting notes of the Last Post played at Menin Gate in memory of all those killed - just as it has been since 1928.

>>Visiting Ypres has meant that I spend much more time at WW1 memorials around the UK - reading, thanking those people who died, empathising with their families. So many men, and so many families, were effected by WW1.

200 years since 1815
At Waterloo there's a new visitor centre and the extraordinary hill monument, Lion's Mound, which gives you a bird's eye view of the main battlesites.

>>Visiting Waterloo got me re-looking at the Romantic(ish) view of war presented in War & Peace, Les Miserables and Vanity Fair.

Listening to the audio tour beside the place where the Normans began their
advance up the hill to do battle with the Saxons in 1066.
950 years since 1066
And at Battle - where the Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 - there's a self-guided walk around the steeply sloping battlefield that makes it clear that the Saxons chose the site well (it's on top of a hill) and the Normans must have been very cunning, and brave, to have won by luring Harold's men off that vantage point. I fear that by writing "and brave" you can tell that I swallowed the Norman viewpoint.

Listening to a retelling of the Battle of Hastings in front of
Battle Abbey (now a school).
Now it is 950 years since the Battle of Hastings, English Heritage has put considerable effort into getting more visitors along. There's an excellent film, that audio tour around the battlefield through prettily wooded sheep fields and by the old Abbey - which is still marked by its own stone skeleton - you can listen to shows. We caught a battle re-enactment, done with vegetables so the presenter can work in the joke "William the Cauliflower" which the little kids loved. It was actually quite a detailed recall of the battle, albeit presented with the help of carrot squadrons.

>>The visits to Ypres and Waterloo were very moving. But Battle wasn't a tiny bit depressing, it's very strange. Despite English Heritage's good graphic detail of how the Saxons and Normans fought (they basically swapped arrows and also wore similar types of protective armour if they could afford it) and being in a place where 700 men died on one day, changing English history it just feels a long time ago in what is now a beautiful spot.

Why visit Battle
The best thing about going to Battle (an English Heritage) site is that it has been a tourist hotspot for hundreds of years - so there are great pubs, tea shops and cafes in Battle.There are even places to stay if you want to squeeze in more culture than you can manage in one day (eg, the free Almonry, a local history museum). Battle is also easy to reach by train (Charing Cross to Battle is a quicker route than Victoria to Battle) and there are plenty of buses.

Pilgrims Rest - a garden cafe with very ancient interior (1400s)
which is opposite the entrance to Battle Abbey. As you can see it does a fine milkshake.
Sussex is renowned for it's good food - if that's something that is important to you, then do visit Battle Deli, 58 High Street, Battle, Sussex.

We also enjoyed the offerings at Pilgrims' Rest, eaten in their pretty garden (as well as the search for anti witch symbols on the interior window sill). Pilgrims' Rest was probably a rest house for the original Abbey workers who were commissioned by William the Conqueror to build an abbey on the spot where King Harold died. Apparently this wasn't out of a sense of shame for William I, it was because the Pope told him he had to make amends. As the first of the Normans' abbeys, Battle Abbey becomes the richest in Britain - so not surprisingly was totally trashed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries.  But you can still see plenty of interesting buildings including a turreted gate house, the impressive wall (with a walkway) between town and the abbey gardens and the abbot's house which became a very grand home, Battle Abbey.

What next
I have a mini dream to try walking from London to Battle along the 1066 walk (although strictly speaking I should perhaps start at Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire (25 Sep 1066) where unlucky Harold had to rush back from after defeating another attempt to take the English Crown, from King Harold of Norway and his own brother (families, eh?!). The Sussex countryside looks lovely - very wooded - so maybe it will be something I can get my family to do with me.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The one night when Claridges Suite 212 was ceeded to Yugoslavia

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 tale of how to give birth in the UK but ensure that your passport has your preferred home land. It definitely helps if you are a mate of ChurchillWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

WW1 changed the way the posh lived. Many no longer ran a London house, but they still wanted to come to London and be able to meet friends, live in comfort and be entertained. The answer was to make full use of hotels. The bright young things of the 20s lived it up at the Savoy, the Connaught, Claridge's and all those lovely huge hotels that are still going but are now just for the super rich (or for those willing to pay £450 a night for a room!).

Back in the day the partying never stopped at some hotels - like the Ritz. But it seems that Claridge's was the hotel aristocrats picked when they gave birth. 

As a timid hotel user (for instance I would never smash up a room or leave without straightening the bed clothes) I think choosing to give birth in a hotel bed is astonishing. Birth is a bloody business and yet clearly the hotel staff had to put up with it, and clean up well. Possibly giving birth at Claridge's was even encouraged. I understand my own dad was born there (and this was in the 1930s!).

This is why it was an extra irony that a young mum was asked to cover up while breastfeeding her 12 week old baby during a celebratory tea at Claridge's, see here.
A grand hotel - this one is the Midland in Morecambe. If only it could talk...

Take me to Yugoslavia
A much more famous birth happened when the young King Peter 11 of Yugoslavia - whose father had been killed at the start of World War Two - made his home as an exile, with his new wife, at Claridge's. On 17 July 1945 Churchill arranged for suite 212 to be ceded by the UK to Yugoslavia. Just for the day. This enabled Peter's heir Crown Prince Alexander to be born on Yugoslav soil. To add to the Yugoslav effect a box of Yugoslav earth was put under the birthing bed!

It'\s a lovely story, and perhaps offers a solution to many of the people who are now seeking dual nationality as a result of Brexit fears? My dad was Scottish, but his Claridge's birth makes my ability to adopt Scottish nationality (should it become available) or even play for Scotland slightly complicated. As a result Mayfair is my spiritual and sporting home...

Assuming Claridge's could arrange, here's a new game to play - which country would you opt to give birth in?