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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, 18 April 2016

Box Hill makes me think of Switzerland...

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. At certain times of year I hunger for mountains with their spring flowers, clean breezes and magnificent views. Here Nicola Baird hikes up Box Hill thinking it's a bit like Switzerland.

A ridge walk with a hilly view. Box Hill has everything Switzerland
has. Just imagine the motorbike roar as tinkling cow bells.
I love mountains, but I'm a bit scared of heights and cable cars. I don't even know how to ski. So what could be better than a day trip to a beautiful high point in the UK that makes you think you are in the clean mountain air of, say, Switzerland when in fact you are up at the top of 600ft Box Hill in Surrey. 600ft is a perfect height: it feels like you've gone up, but for anyone reasonably fit if

Pilgrim cycles - lovely place for a cuppa and cake.
And calls itself a "climbing cafe, without mountains".
Like Switzerland this area is well served by trains - I arrived on the Box Hill & Westhumble station to find a cycle shop renting bikes, selling maps and serving snacks in the lovely old booking hall. Pilgrims feels idiosyncratic which reminded me of the Swiss obsession for getting outside and doing Olympic type feats (eg, cycling an alp just to get a good cup of black coffee with a view). On my brief walk from the station to the down I was staggered by the number of people in lycra trying out the unforgiving hills that made up part of London's 2012 cycling course.

Not so quiet
Box Hill is a busy place. There are the cyclists, walkers, leisure drivers and scores of motorbikers (fortunately on ZigZag Road rather than the chalk tracks crossing Box Hill). It's managed by the National Trust which seems to do an amazing job keeping every interest group happy. There are cups of tea and fat slabs of cake at the hill top visitor centre; nature trails making use of the wonderful box trees (Mole Gap is where 40% of the country's wild box trees grow) and plenty of opportunity to fly kites, run trails or spot birds and butterflies. Obviously dog walkers love it too.
(4yo girl in angry tears): I want to climb a tree! 
25 mile views from the top of Box Hill.
You can try the strenuous four mile Juniper top walk or just take a stroll to Salomon's Lookout. This was far too busy when I turned up, but it does have amazing views over the Surrey Hills. I followed the steep path down the cliff edge (not realising it was a cliff until I looked back) to reach the famous Stepping Stones crossing the River Mole into Burford Meadow. Except it's spring and the water was too high to spot the stones (luckily there's a bridge too).
(9yo girl beaming as she puffed up the hill): You should see the mud!
Relief map: pale green is flat and dark green indicates steep slopes.
There are also all sorts military hardware on Box Hill - an old fort designed to save the British Empire but now beloved by bats. Far below it are 12 concrete pillars positioned to prevent tanks crossing the river and pounding to the summit. Excitingly I even came across a disused pillbox (fyi: type 24 infantry shell proof)when I got distracted off the main path by the wild garlic (it makes fabulous pesto) growing along the riverbank.
(20something woman): I feel so good after being outside all day. 
In any mountainous country there are inevitably tall tales of fierce people and beasts. But at Box Hill you have Labilliere's grave - the major who insisted he was buried head downwards in 1800 because he felt the world was changing so quickly and in such a topsy turvy way that one day he'd be the right way up... And there's also a Swiss Chalet, a Little Alp and Broadwood's Tower. This is storybook country with fab views. Do go.

(20 something man): I've done 23,000 paces...
OS Explorer 146: Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate
Over to you
Where else in Britain offers a great mountain-style view? Or do you have any ideas about where I can take my family to explore the world without leaving Britain?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Celebrating our National Trails: the joy of a long walk

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. The world has many long walks - from the Great Wall of China to mega trips undertaken by adventurers who know it's all taking the first step. Pete May gets some tips from writer Paddy Dillon about where to go in the UK for his next big walk.

Pete May and dog tackle the Thames Path on a very wet day.
AroundBritain No Plane enjoyed celebrating Cicerone’s very useful guides to National Trails at Foyles Bookshop in London. Now the guides include an OS-style mapping booklet that gives you all the mapping you need for the Pennine Way, Coast to Coast, Cotswold Way, Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke, Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Great Glen Way, Thames Path and West Highland Way. The dedicated route maps eliminate the need for buying lots of separate maps and can be used in either direction. They were praised by Kate Ashbrook, President of The Ramblers. And all the guides also have very useful accommodation sections and tips on who baggage carriers, if that's what you or your family need.

Cicerone writer Paddy Dillon gave an entertaining talk on walking all the long distance trails of Britain — and he’s now walking them again to revise his guides. Paddy, who grew up with Burnley, first walked the Pennine Way at 16, “when I did absolutely everything wrong, so I could only get better!” He showed pictures of his travels around the UK’s trails and introduced us to some of the more obscure but interesting paths such as the Yorkshire Wolds Way, Peddars Way and North Norfolk Coastal Path, the Pennine Bridleway, the Speyside Way and Glyndลตr’s Way.

By this time I was tempted to tackle the North Norfolk Coastal Path or the Yorkshire Wolds Way this summer.

The next speaker, Ursula Martin of OneWomanWalksWales, got me thinking about how to walk across Wales.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer Ursula decided to walk 400 miles to her next hospital appointment in Bristol to raise money for cancer charities. She eventually completed 3000 miles along trails like Offa’s Dyke, the Cistercian Way, the Severn Way, the high-level Cambrian Way (“which almost broke me”) and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (“my favourite”). “People’s kindness was overwhelming. I planned to rough camp, but I was given so much stuff, tea, meals, and beds for the night. There was a lot of serendipity.” 

Initially she planned to walk 19 miles a day but then suffered a tendon injury. “In the end I let go of time and distance and just walked.” After her treatment Ursula has been clear of cancer for four years and is now writing a book about her journey. Her next project is to walk and sail through Europe.

A morning spent talking national trails can’t help but inspire some wanderlust for Britain’s vast array of walkways and Cicerone’s very thorough guides are the ideal way to plan your route. 
Over to you
Do share your best long distance routes - have you tried doing a long walk on your own or do you have any tips to tempt your family along?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Why camels give me the hump

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. Spotting an unusual van got me thinking about underwear...Words by Nicola Baird 

For the past few weeks a large white van emblazoned with the magical worlds "Camel Milk UK" has been parked near where I live. I've seen this van around the area before although I've yet to find a bottle or carton of camel milk on sale. It's not that hard though, you can just pop to www.camelmilkuk.net to organise.

Waiting for Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill tackles
camel toe without using such a derogatory phrase.

I know very little about camels, so I was surprised when I mentioned to one of my daughters that in the hilarious YA book I was reading, a character told her teenager to change their outfit rather than going out in an outfit that looked "gynaecological", that my daughter immediately translated this dress mistake as "camel toe".

Camel toe is slang. Slang for the outline of a woman's labia should they be wearing super tight clothing such as leggings or very tight shorts. It's in surprisingly common use. Today I read it in the Guardian's fashion column.

If you look on wikipedia you can compare a woman in hot pants (pity the jobs some models get) with a camel's toe. Or you can search for Kim Kardashian in her allegedly photoshopped flesh-tone Yezzy outfit (designed by her husband Kanye). Either way scrutiny shows that women and camels are different. 

I guess a whale tale - when thong underwear gets exposed thanks to low rise jeans - doesn't look much like a whale either. It's just another of those creepy expressions that belittles what women do and wear.

There are so many animal expressions used to knock an outfit choice, no doubt from all around the world. I can think of two more - dog's dinner; and mutton dressed as lamb. 

What about you, do you know any expressions like this used in other parts of the world? And are they used kindly or with intentional cruelty?