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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, 20 March 2017

New ways to make a pilgrimage

Are you the pilgrim type? You might be as there's 100 million pilgrim journeys made each year alone. I think I could be... if I just pick the right attitude rather than a high profile route. Words from Nicola Baird  (see www.nicolabaird.com orwww.islingtonfacesblog.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Lea Valley Walk finishes just after the Olympic Park at Stratford - so walk on
a West Ham home game and you'll get the added thrill of being with 57,000 football
fans. It's not as bad as it sounds - and the cheers of goals add to the celebration that
you've nearly finished a 50 mile walk. Or just started.
I’ve always assumed a pilgrimage isn’t right for me, even if 100 million people annually complete the 14 best known... according to the Huffington Post. These are:
  1. The Ganges River, India
  2. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  3. Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
  4. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City
  5. Vaishno Devi Temple, India
  6. Lourdes, France
  7. Bahai Gardens, Israel
  8. Vatican, Rome
  9. Jerusalem, Israel
  10. Bethlehem, Israel
  11. Machu Picchu, Peru
  12. Rumi's Tomb, Turkey
  13. Bodi Tree (fig tree), India
  14. Stonehenge, Wiltshire * (I've been here, in fact cycled some of the way, see this post)

But the April 2017 issue of The Simple Things magazine has flipped my thinking. That’s because the criteria they set for a pilgrim fits beautifully into how I try and live (try, note). Here’s how to turn an ordinary walk into a pilgrimage (from the British Pilgrimage Trust )
  1. Go slowly
  2. Improve the way (pick up rubbish, shut gates, rescue what needs rescuing etc)
  3. Accept more, need less
  4. Pass the blessing on

  • Well #1 is no problem. It took nearly five years to complete the NewRiver Path (see my blog post here) despite it being short and practically ending by my door. 
  • #2 is one I try and do, ideally by remembering to take a plastic bag for litter. Actually you don’t need to as I usually find at least one of the pieces of litter is an empty plastic bag - essentially offering itself to be filled with recyclables. 
  • I’m not really sure about #3 – I sometimes beg my husband, Pete, to carry my rucksack (but in exchange I'll carry the dog poos) 
  • #4 I’m useless at. But seems like a good new habit to make.
Judgment: Two out of four isn’t a bad start… I’m officially pilgrim-lite.

The next long walk starts here... The Lea
Valley Walk from Luton to the Thames.
Fortunately there’s a brand new journey - pilgrimage - to start. This time Pete and I are going to walk the Lea Valley Walk, using one of Cicerone’s handy guides. This one is written by Leigh Hatts (3rd edition came out in 2015 so doesn't include the news that West Ham is now based at the Olympic Stadium, which is now called the London Stadium). The River Lea starts unpromisingly in Leagrave (such a strange name for a birth) then wiggles 50 miles across Bedfordshire and through the Olympic parts of London to the East India Dock and out to the River Thames. The ambitious walker can zip down this practically flat, super-waymarked, mostly off road route in 2 days. I expect to take much longer (see pilgrim rule #1).

Reading the guide this walk is surprisingly exciting because it covers the vast Lea Valley - something all council-tax paying Londoners contribute towards maintaining. I’ve done some volunteering clearing soapwort out of ditches with BTCV, listened to nightingales near Cheshunt and I’ve enjoyed plenty of more random walks around the area. But now I’m set on selling this as a wonderful journey across “London’s playground” and “London’s wildlife reserve” (depends who you talk to) because the Lea Valley according to former Mayor Boris Johnson is “London’s Lake District”.

The walk starts in Luton – which apparently is worth exploring for a day or two, somewhere I’ve never considered visiting. And because it also goes through the rather lovely towns of Harpendon, Hatfield and Hertford there are some excellent old pubs to try out (maybe this is rule #4 if I buy a pint for Pete when he is in need!).

The ending is conveniently close to the new West Ham stadium, where Pete spends a great deal of time (see pic above). So I can imagine being able to walk several chunks of the final section of the Lea Valley Walk with him before or after home games. This will definitely offer litter-picking opportunities (see #2)

Lea Valley Park Authority HQ is based at
Myddleton House (a tiny but worthwhile detour
from the Lea Valley Walk.
Ready, steady, go
So in March 2017 we began our Lea Valley Walk with... a detour to Myddleton House which is the Lea Valley Park Authority HQ. It’s also a key detour for the New River Walk. 

Myddleton House has an exquisite spring garden – designed like an Alpine meadow by EA Bowles (1865-1954). It’s about the only place on the Lea Valley or New River walks that is vehemently anti-dog. But… you must go in the spring for a quick look at the blanket of daffodils planted near where the New River used to run and then try counting the bee hives (6+). There’s also a lovely tea room. Actually there’s another nice tea room at the next door estate, Forty Hall, which is about a 15 minute (slow) walk away. And here I met a school governing colleague who’d been on a mission to collect a bag of lion poo (as you do) at one of the many garden centres I'd never noticed in the area because they are just behind the A10.

The A10 is theoretically my road in and out of London. As a car owner (and even now occasionally when renting a car to visit my Herts-based family) I’ve driven along it many times… so it has been a real pleasure diving off the A10 on foot (via train stations like Turkey Street and dual carriage pedestrian underpasses) to discover that Enfield is big on ribbon development but behind the grim A10 (sorry road lovers) the countryside is old-fashioned idyllic, both on the west side around Myddleton House Gardens, Forty Hall and the horticultural training centre  Capel Manor, as well of course as the huge chunk of eastern wetlands that make up the 10,000 acre Lea Valley park.  I can see now why people really like living here. As ever a journey by foot tells you so much more than a journey by car. 

So far the Lea Valley Walk has been a 10/10. I just wonder how long it will take for me to complete it. Do you think the modern pilgrim-lite is allowed to start a sweepstake?

1 comment:

Nicola Baird said...

From Will at the British Pilgrim Trust: Thanks Nicola - Pilgrim-Lite! It's a lovely article. I remember seeing baby clothes on a washing line in the hedge of a blue tarp home beside the Lea, and it was the most tragically sad depiction of homelessness - the optimism and effort to keep it together, to raise a child and wash their clothes - with the awfulness of having no better option than a blue tarp near a factory on a canal. Anyway, Thanks again,