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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog 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. 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.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Christchurch Dorset needs a political revamp - here's why

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. My husband and I always try to have a weekend away in December and this time we went to Christchurch, Dorset... and yes it did make us think about what Christchurch NZ might be like this time of year. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

That's Christchurch Castle behind us. Rain above us
(but we didn't mind!).
I've just spent a weekend in Christchurch. That's Dorset, not New Zealand. But these two towns, Christchurch, the largest city in New Zealand's South Island, and the Georgian coastal town packed with holiday homes and retirees are twinned. In fact they've only been twinned since 1911, and the reason seems to be because NZ troops during WW1 were stationed in nearby Brockenhurst which is the heart of the New Forest.

Christchurch NZ is on an earthquake fault line. Christchurch in the UK has created a different rumpus - until 1974 it was Hampshire. It doesn't quite feel like Dorset even if scones and cream teas are available. But then again visiting any British seaside town in winter has a danger of it not living up to expectations, especially if there is a great deal of icy rain...

More sensibly, both Christchurch also have two rivers...

A couple of nights in Christchurch, Dorset was really a treat though. There is a ruined Norman castle and a Norman Manor House, built in 1160, both juxtaposed by a very splendid bowling green. And of course there's the beautiful church, the original The Priory, which appeared super busy in the Christmas run-up - on the Saturday holding the Messiah and then on Sunday a Christingle service.

Pete by the ducking stool (it's a model for tourists and anyway
was exclusively used for women) on the mill race beside
the River Avon.
We stayed at the King's Arms which is proper posh, but friendly - though slightly worryingly described by a Daily Mail review as "a jewel on the Dorset coastline". We also had a cup of tea at the modish Captain's Club on the banks of the River Stour, down by Christchurch Quay and were able to enjoy seeing it crammed with people lunching in family get-togethers and also listening to live jazz.

Getting to know you
In the evening there were many places to eat, including quite a few gastro pubs, e.g., The Ship at 48 High Street, where you can eat fantastic pies and listen to a band. Wondering down Bridge Street and the High Street on a Saturday it was amazing to see the amount of places that have security guards outside them.

Snapshot from Daily Echo which covers news in Christchurch
- death, crashes, burglaries, attacks: not so nice after all.
It feels so affluent... but clearly there are problems as the local paper reveals. By day there was a Big Issue seller standing under an umbrella, and in the evening one homeless man curled into a sleeping bag. And over at the nice Druitt Hall where craft and jams are sold the ladies told me this was the very last Monday sale - done in tandem with the town market - for them as the rent was going up and they just couldn't afford it.

How many of these tongue-in-cheek
Jeremy Corbyn unofficial albums will
be gifted in Christchurch (with or without irony)?
Clearly the problems are here in this Christchurch, but what we didn't see was a sense of the solutions. In Archway, London, near my home, one of the local gift shops has got in a dozen of the Jeremy Corbyn unofficial albums (a lot of silliness in this with masks, crossword, stories, comic strip etc) which no doubt will sell well because people think they can influence change.. and aren't Tory by instinct. In fact Christchurch has been represented since 1997 by Christopher Chope, MP, who is a Tory. I wonder if people in Christchurch think he's done a good job or not? Looking at his Wikipedia page it's clear he's an old Thatcherite; a pioneer of selling off local housing stock (and for a while known as Chopper Chope because no council house was safe during his stint on Wandsworth council). He was predictably also one of the greedy ones during the expenses scandal.  Wikipedia may not be a fan... but he's also 70, tried to stop a debate about Hillsborough and in 2010 hosted a meeting for climate science sceptics.  I don't think he's done a good job for this constituency, never mind the country. If I can tell that from a two night stopover, what on earth are the locals thinking of him? Come on guys, especially anyone under 70, your town deserves better.

For starters he can help those ladies running the craft market in Druitt Hall keep going... If I was them I'd be asking!

Visitors to Christchurch, Dorset will see people shop, and dress up beautifully to go out but it's not clear how well the locals are coping with austerity. It's as if it hasn't quite hit them yet - or at any rate they haven't yet felt the injustice or developed the power to take a stand. I know you think I'm judging that simply by an absence of Jeremy Corbyn! Annual 2018 copies on sale (£9.99), which is quite a unusual yardstick. Don't judge this either: I came home with delicious cheese scones from that last sale at Druitt Hall, plus some Belgian chocolates and a bottle of Mermaid gin both bought as a gift at friendly The Christchurch Confectioner, 72 High Street.

We also stopped at Ye Old George, 2a Castle Street, for a drink. Here we found a plaque explaining that this was where a barred cell used to house convicts due to be transported to Australia. Right now it looks into a courtyard covered in fairy lights where hardy drinkers warm up with mulled wine. It's a happy place, but was obviously a site of real misery. And in an interesting twist The George is also a super flash hotel in New Zealand - not to be mixed up.

I'm pleased I've been here. For starters it was new to me - it had plenty of history, heaps of dramatic ruins, an incredible coastline, lots of moored boats to enjoy and the biggest collection of swans I've come across. Tourism and politics don't go well together but it would have been good to find out more about how this once vital town is preparing for climate change, flooding and the challenges that higher interest rates and chain stores bring. People kept saying to us, sadly, everyone's in Bournemouth, shopping. I wonder if they were? They could just as easily be worn out by poor leadership.

Over to you
When you take a visit do you try and find out about the political situation too?

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