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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, 26 February 2016

It's cold, wet and somehow I'm in New Caledonia (via London's old docklands)

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. How a walk along the River Thames got me thinking about whaling and the South Pacific. Words by Nicola Baird

This area was known as Greenland Dock from 1763. But there must have been a strong
South Pacific link as nearby is South Seas Road.
New Caledonia (also known as Noumea) in the South Pacific is a tropical Pacific Island. So it's fun to walk along the south bank of the River Thames - using the Thames Path - and discover the many links this area had with the rest of the world.

There's a large block of City fabulous apartments on the spot where I took this photo, which were built on part of  a 10 acre dock where the whaling boats collected.  The unfortunate whales were caught for their meat, oil and blubber. But the huge whale bones have been put to all sorts of uses too - to shock and awe like the jawbones on Whitby cliff as well as more practical uses, like corsets (fashion) but also for chess pieces and dominoes.

Sperm oil was used when high quality lighting was needed, eg, for non-smokey light and even lighthouses - as well as for lubricating machinery and soap.

At the dock there used to be blubber boiling houses.

Whaling is an old, old trade, possibly dating back to 3,000BC - reaching a peak in the 1930s when the annual whale slaughter was around 50,000.  Since 1986 whaling has been banned, but some countries - Japan, Iceland, Norway and others - controversially persist. In other words it's still going on...

This part of Rotherhithe's original name was changed in 1763 to Greenland Dock, no doubt reflecting the location of where ships were chasing and catching the majority of their whales. You can find more about the history of New Caledonia Wharf and the luxury flats there now here or look at wikipedia for more about whales and whaling.

  • It was Captain James Cook who named New Caledonia - in 1774. Ships initially traded sandalwood (a rather poetic name for timber), and then blackbirding - illegal shipment of locals to work in slave-like conditions in the sugar cane fields of Queensland, Australia.
  • It became - and remains - a French possession, on order of Napoleon, in 1854. it was used as a penal colony for many years although discovering nickel seems to have helped give this small island country a little more status with Mother France.  Although no longer a colony it has been one of France's overseas territories since the end of the second world war. Be born there and you can take on French nationality, despite clearly being Melanesian.

I have such a soft spot for the South Pacific that even on a wet, cold February just seeing the words "New Caledonia" made me imagine tropical warmth. And when I peered through the entrance to the flats I could hear the music of running water - a fountain of course. The apartments also have an indoor swimming pool.

This area had been hugely pimped up. When Charles Dickens and Conan Doyle were writing they'd send their really bad characters to this area in search of R&R at an opium den. Now it seems squeaky clean behind the gated posh conversions. There's not even much graffiti, but there are still a few cranes and along the waterfront little wharves giving just a hint of the bustle, noise and trade this part of Docklands was so famous for.

Verdict: A fabulous way to get to know the Thames.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Trinity Buoy Wharf has that San Francisco feeling

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. Nerdy, laid-back San Francisco is on most people's bucket list - and now I've found a London version, Trinity Buoy Wharf which mixes big views of the Golden Gate Bridge (I mean the Millennium Dome) and an artists' colony on the River Thames.

Double take at the taxi.
I’ve been promised a trip to India and if the weather holds, Cyprus too.
World travel via London's DLR.
But I’m not going to be caught out by this cynical use of creatively named tube stops as I attempt to travel around the world without leaving Britain.

Luckily the area between East India Dock and Canning Town has a very distinct vibe, and on this sunny February Sunday there’s a definite San Francisco feeling. I’m guessing as I haven’t been to SF, but my husband Pete has and today he's playing tour guide - on a mission to get the rest of his family down to the River Lea mouth so we can stare at the site of the old Thames Ironworks, which is the birthplace of his much-loved football team, West Ham. It's also the inspiration for their club badge, a pair of hammers. Last time he visited, five years ago, he said it felt derelict - just big views of the Thames and a red leather sofa abandoned near a sign about the Ironworks.

Now it's known as Trinity Buoy Wharf, and billed as East London's most exciting arts quarter. Even without the monday-friday folk it does have a distinctly arty feel.

Snapping the photographer as she poses her dad (by a giant red herring).
From the DLR aim for the Thames path with its great view of the Millennium Dome and then turn left through an orchard, and then over a bridge past a huge reed-edged pond that used to be a well-used East India Dock Basin, and is now a bird sanctuary and then a gate that exits on to a rather unpromising looking lane. It’s awash with litter and used laughing gas canisters. But look up once you pass the taxi with an iron tree emerging from its roof and there’s graffiti everywhere. My 14 year old takes over her dad’s camera and starts taking endless portraits that could be used on Tumblr.

Once a busy wharf, now a wildlife reserve East India Dock Basin has stunning views towards Canary Wharf.
Further down the lane - also known as Orchard Place, or Bog Island - there are history boards about this part of Bow Creek. It used to be a very isolated, poor village populated by three main families. In the late 19th century the school had 160 children, of whom 100 had the same surname, Lammin. There’s still a little school on the peninsula, Faraday School which has a fenced sports ground on the top floor of the building. In those days if you wanted something you'd have to head to Poplar, now you've got Canary Wharf and several new housing developments - even islands - springing up.

The views from the lighthouse are fantastic - birds, millennium dome, London &
far further afield - and all come accompanied by non stop musical bowls.
Arts centre
Trinity Buoy Wharf by Bow Creek and the River Lea is now an artists mecca. For starters there’s Container City, old shipping containers now used as studios. There is also the Royal Drawing College and a depot for the ENO (English National Opera) and a 1000 year longplayer piece of music playing in converted Bow Creek lighthouse…. (it began in 2000 and is only due to end in 2999). Find out more here.
Bow Creek Cafe does a good veggie and traditional all day breakfast.
We found two places to eat – Fat Boys Diner which does American fast food well; and Bow Creek CafĂ© which is a sweet find where you can sit indoors or out with a view of the muddy Lea joining the Thames. There are braziers, piles of logs, pots of thyme on the wooden tables, hand-painted chess boards and fairy lights creating a definite ambience. We also spotted several music stands and stools, perhaps an invitation to just get jamming. The food here was tasty, homemade and good value. 

London changes so fast – just like San Francisco – but fortunately in this area it’s not just yuppy apartments (£300,000+ for a one bed, ow) there’s also plenty of things to look at and suitably laid-back, sunny places like Bow Creek Cafe to chill just like you are a Californian nerd (or East London artist).

Verdict: go visit, take your time, and then revisit once you've got your bearings.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

An eye-popping trip to Little Holland in E17

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. This post takes a quick peek at Walthamstow Village, E17 which over the past year has been transformed so much it's now known as Little Holland. Here's why...

Four cafes, a newsagent, Spanish deli, antiques shop and pub
make the heart of Walthamstow Village a nice place to linger.
Little Holland turns out to be just an enjoyable six mile cycle from my house, in what used to be traffic-blighted, rat-run ridden Walthamstow Village. 

For the past decade I haven’t been to Walthamstow much – it’s nice, but my two friends who used to live there decided to move to country towns a while back. Each time I visited them I remember thinking, this place is fab but there’s a huge amount of traffic on these cute little streets.

But that’s all changed.

The reservoirs and sewage works along Coppermill Lane, which leads
to Blackhorse Road, are a good place to spot giant birds.
Thanks to a £30 million grant the residential area around Walthamstow Village has been modal calmed – which means that cars no longer have priority. Cyclists are still allowed along the roads and pedestrians in many places have become king.  It seems so much nicer now – you can hear passers-by talking, kids are scooting around safely along what used to be pavements half-blocked by vehicles parked erratically. I remember my NCT mum friend having to wheel her buggy into the road frequently in order to get along the pavement! Now she’d love it – there’s room to walk hand-in-hand and the rat runners are just about gone.

Pollution-eating cycleway near Walthamstow tube (which also
boasts Brompton bike hire and commuter cycle storage). This pavement
allegedly locks nitrogen oxides - one of the pollutants
from car exhausts. They've had smog-eating pavements
in the Netherlands since 2013.
£30 million seems like a huge amount, but across the UK apparently only £1-2 per person is spent on cycling and walking -  even though a Parliamentary committee recommended it should be more like £10 per person.

In comparison in Holland it’s around £20 per person. No wonder more Dutch people cycle!

Islington cyclists on a tour of Walthamstow. The 12-mile round trip
can be made on a multitude of quiet routes including the edge of Walthamstow
Marshes near Coppermill Bridge.
Congratulations to Waltham Forest cyclists for achieving this. If you live in an area that could be made more like Holland, then have a look at theWaltham Forest cyclists’ website for top tips and FAQs about how to create quiet ways, village centres and improve road safety.

The first cowslip I've seen in 2016 - out in February at
the Islington Ecology Centre (the start and finish point
of Islington Cyclists ride to view Mini Holland).
The route from Islington to Walthamstow is blessedly flat (there is one hill near Springfield Park), just like Holland. And the day I did this ride the wind was blessedly behind us - may that be your experience on any long ride.

Islington Cyclists Action Group want quietways across the borough - and if they succeed, that will be another step towards making London a little more like Holland. I'm all for going Dutch if it means you can use roads more safely and hear what people are saying...

Monday, 1 February 2016

How Green Lanes offers a convincing taste of Turkey

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. This post sees me exploring just 10 minutes from my home. Nice to discover I really don't have far to go further than Green Lanes to find Turkey & if that isn't enough then it's off to Somerset House for the free exhibition of Nobel-prize winning Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence which offers a taste of his novel and 1970s Istanbul.

Turkish convenience stores - and this is a bit of a star - often offer lots of
good quality raw ingredients. Brilliant place to get spices too.
“Where do you like best on Green Lanes?”

I’ve been asked this before, often actually, once someone knows that I live quite close to this amazing street. Problem is, I never go there. I live about 10 minutes cycle ride away so there’s no excuse and after 11 years living nearby I really must do go and explore.

Green Lanes is not handsome. It's car choked and feels polluted,
but it has some excellent Turkish cafes, shops and restaurants.
So at the weekend I take the dog for a walk in a different direction. Arsenal are playing so the traffic is thick and clogged. Harringay apparently has no separate cycle lanes and you'd think it was where the car is king, but around Green Lanes there are also a lot of pedestrians trying to fit on to the pavements. Near the Harringay overground there’s a shopping centre which most people must walk to and from – judging by the branded bags being carried away from Argos, Homebase, Sainsbury’s and Poundland. But the shopping centre is probably Green Lanes’ lowpoint.

Close to the Harringay overground is the first of two Kofali Hot Nuts shops. Here you can buy a sack of walnuts or sunflower seeds. Or for £1.70 buy a more diminutive-sized mix that’s poured into a paper bag. It’s hard to resist the honey roasted combinations or to avoid picking at them as you walk down the road enjoying the window displays in the many independent shops. You can find shimmering long dresses, over the top jewellery, wonderful displays of vegetables and fruit, amazing bakeries displaying huge celebration cakes and countless cafes where lamb is spinning, dishes of peppers, tomato and onions are ever warm and flat bread wraps – filled with cheese, spinach, tomato, onion combinations – are rolled out and baked in front of your eyes. I bought the best wrap I’ve ever eaten for just £2.50.

Turkish delights
Try the renowned Gokyuzu for fresh salads, flat bread, pide (like pizza), kebabs, rice and many other tasty Turkish choices. Or limit what you can have by a tiny amount and opt for halal and soft drinks at the popular Diyarbakir. Eat up and keep ordering: this is Green Lanes, it’s not going to be pricey. 

You should hear many people speaking Turkish.

Recently a friend compared the range of skirt lengths – long niquab; modest but with a hijab/scarf or crazily short – around Holloway Road’s Nags Head as being very similar to the streets of Istanbul. If that’s right then a walk along Seven Sisters Road then left down to Green Lanes could give you a very convincing taste for Turkish travel.

Two spots along this short section of Green Lanes aren’t well known, but are also worth seeking out. Firstly there’s a gorgeous pocketpark parallel to the railway line. It’s often shut, so check the opening times (open mon-friday and the last saturday of the month). It’s a magical place for spring flowers, so promise yourself a little wander there in March or April. 

Inside the Salisbury on Green Lanes.
A 5-min stroll from Railway Fields' green space you can find the Grade II listed Salisbury pub (opened in 1899). This is a magnificent space around an old oak bar. The ceilings are high, there are snugs and several roaring fires – it’s so big you feel like you have the place to yourself. My husband particularly liked the large choice of real ale (he picked Two o’clock ordinary). For any beer lover this is a real treat. You can pick up a £2.50 filled flat bread before you hit the beers, or enjoy the pub’s popular Sunday-lunch menu (check any details on tel: 020 8800 9617).

Turkey may not be in the EU, but if you can get to London's Green Lanes you can enjoy experiencing something of what it would be like teleported to that mesmerising country. As I mentioned at the start - and if that's not enough then go on to Somerset House for author Orhan Pamuk's 13 vitrines representing the characters in the Museum of Innocence (until 3 April), press release here.