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.

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...